Startups: Good Looks Are More Than Just Eye Candy [Is Usability Overhyped?]

[Today, we are starting a series called “Bring Your Own Insights”, where we bring selected guests to share their insights with audience on a regular basis. We have always believed that our readers are amazingly insightful, so why not enable a channel for them to share their insights/experience with the audience?

These guests will come from different industries and will share their insights on a very frequent basis. The first article that goes live as part of this series is written by Sanket Nadhani, who heads Marketing & Sales at FusionCharts.]

Startups: Good Looks Are More Than Just Eye Candy [Is Usability Overhyped?]

I like talking to our customers whenever I get a chance, over phone or at the expos we exhibit at. I try to understand how they are using FusionCharts and how they see their charting requirements evolving. And at the end of these conversations I typically end up asking – So what made you choose FusionCharts? Nine times out of ten, pat comes the answer – It looks great!

What? You sell because you look good? Not because you help save time, cost, have more features or any of those things, I hear you ask. Well….yes we get you started in fifteen minutes….have a no-nonsense licensing….are pretty comprehensive…but the main reason users purchase our charts is because they look good. So much so that we recently changed our tagline to just convey this one message – Stunning charts for Web & Enterprise. And today, I would like to talk to you about how good looks are not just about the eye candy. Not just about the five-second gratification of the eyes. It is a lot more than that.

I will talk about products in general here and not restrict it to the charting niche, to make it easier for you to relate to.

Builds perception

The first appearance of a person forms the perception we have of him. They way a person dresses, his posture, his greeting style and handshake go a long way in determining what we think of him. Similarly, looks alter the consumer’s perception of your product in a long way.

People believe that what looks good is good. The perception of better looking things working better pre-use is commonly accepted. Post-use, not so much. In his book Emotional Design: Why we love (or hate) everyday things, Don Norman cites the examples of researchers in Japan who has set up two ATMs that were exactly identical in function and how they worked. The only difference was the buttons and screens were more attractive in one of the ATMs. People faced fewer difficulties with the attractive machine, which means it actually worked better. What looks good is good, post-use.

This perception is pretty simple to explain. When we are using a beautiful product, our brain is relaxed and more likely to find solutions to problems. However, when we are tense, our brain gets a sort of tunnel vision where we only see the problem in front of us. Put simply, what looks good is good.

Builds credibility

To put together a good-looking design, it takes a lot of time and attention. People feel that since so much attention has been paid to the design, the same amount of attention would have been given to the core functioning of the product as well, which implies that it is a good credible product.

In a study done on website credibility by Persuasive Technology Lab, Stanford University, half of the consumers (46.1% to be exact) out of the 2,684 people who took part attributed the credibility of the website to how it looked. This made design way more than important than other well-accepted factors like name recognition (branding), information clarity, accuracy and affiliations. What was most surprising that the credibility-related comments about visual design occurred with the most frequency for finance sites, a domain of websites where information and its surrounding functions are supposed to be the king. Case in point,, a personal finance web app., pretty much unknown three years back, used good design to build credibility strong enough to convince people give their credit card numbers to a company with a in its name, not to forget all of their online banking passwords.

As people use the web increasingly each day, for finding health information, storing financial data, making travel bookings, they need to instantly determine whether a website is credible or not. They need to know whether they can trust the website or not? This is where design is the big differentiator. Easy and quick.

Increases Engagement

The web is getting wider day by day, and the marketplace more crowded. The time to shape the experience of the customer with your product is very short. Time spent on the website is the new hits received. In a situation like this, good looks can be the big differentiator between you and your competitor.

A better looking design will focus the user’s attention on your product and he will spend more time with it. He will get to know more about what your product can do for him, try those things out and ultimately see that it “works better,” is “more usable” and definitely “more comprehensive.” Who really wants to use boring products full of gray that reminds them that they are sitting in cubicles and talking to machines? Not only that, a good design also leads to an excited user. It gives him something memorable to go out tell his friends about. What else can you ask for?

Builds an Emotional Connection

Humans are social animals, all of us learnt at school. They are relationship-seeking creatures. They tend to form an emotional connection with everyone and everything they come across over and over again. All the product purchase decisions aren’t as rational as they are usually made out to be. They aren’t entirely made on sensible things like technical capabilities or product pricing. Emotional bonds like a good rapport with the people behind the product, a long-term association with the product or the product being “just perfect” are also major decision-influencers. As is good design.

A good design triggers a stream of positive emotions from the brain. An emotional connection makes a person stick to a product, never mind the extra bucks he has to spend for the product. It fuels his creativity. Increases his productivity. It is the only way he can work. All other options fail for him. That is how strong emotional connections can be.

And if you are still not convinced, here’s the magic word.


Motivates and Sets Expectations

Till now, I have been discussing how good looks affect the experience the outside world has with your product. In this final point I am about to make, I will bring out how a good-looking design motivates your internal team and inspires them to create a better product on the whole.

In this excellent blog post by Chris Campbell of Wufoo (a company I highly admire) on the importance of design in business, he mentions how good design creates a sort of a ripple effect, sets higher expectations and inspires the overall development to create a better product on the whole.

“Good design in our company doesn’t just sell products. Good design fosters collaboration, communicates strategy, sets expectations, improves the efficiency of a team, and most importantly inspires and motivates like nothing else.

When you start out with a beautiful and awe inspiring wireframe or prototype, your expectations about that product and everything associated with it is expected to also be beautiful and awe inspiring. If the initial expectations for a web application are low by bad or no design, then bad practices seem to find their way into the code, the web site marketing, and even the attitudes toward customers by employees. When you start with great design as a foundation, there is a snowball effect on the quality and execution of a product from start to finish.”

It’s almost like Chris has written those words for our team. I don’t have anything else to add.

Final words

Good looks are a part of the very DNA of FusionCharts. Every time a new member joins us, we tell them on the very first day – Everything coming out you has to look wow. Every chart, every product, every website, every brochure….heck even every email you send. Make it look good is the don’t be evil for us, except that we will never drop it.

[Guest author: Sanket also writes for the FusionCharts blog talking about usability, charting tips & tricks and mostly about all the behind-the-scenes fun. He loves his food and beer. Follow Sanket on Twitter:@sanketnadhani. ]

[PS: If you want to be a part of this selective list, do connect with us.]

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