Is beauty more important than function? Is fit of a product more important than how it looks? Truth is function and aesthetics are of equal importance. A beautiful product will allow the user to trust the product initially and reduce distractions, while a functional product will keep the user engaged.
When they come together, the user-experience feels complete. Functional design ensures your utility and usability are met. Aesthetics design ensures the product is desirable and the user has a great brand experience.
Tech startups have many risks to overcome for their venture to hit milestones — adoption risk is becoming a major focus. Users expect their product to be useful, intuitive, and beautiful. To alleviate this risk, many entrepreneurs learn User-Experience design is the area they need to invest time and resources into for their product.
From my experience, I see the UX process for any product is made up primarily of Functional Design and Aesthetic Design — both predicated from a strong User-Research stage. However, this world of design is completely foreign to many (Technologists and Business folk alike). Since we are such visual creatures, many startups new to the UX space or who are clients of UX Designers tend to focus primarily on Aesthetics design.
For my UX consulting clients, I follow the following process:
For a startup, you will find a person who is dominant in one area in the process. Then you need to see what other areas they are competent within and have them execute within that stage as well. For example, I am dominant in Information Architecture (IA), but with my strong empathy skills and understanding of UX psychology, I also complete the User-Research phase. My last point in the process is low-fidelity Wireframes. After this stage, I partner with graphic artists who execute the Aesthetics UX which includes User-Interface Design and Visual Design. My key role is to communicate the user-research phase and our goals of the function to complete the Aesthetics UX.
Finally, cross-pollination is important to the UX process. Have Aesthetics UX members (and also other business stakeholders) in on the User-Research phase so they can understand the user motivations and fears first-hand. Have developers in on the IA phase so they can provide feedback on what is feasible and what is not. Have functional designers in on the visual design phase so they can relay what information is important and should be highlighted (or hidden). This cross-over of information and input is what makes the process so special to delivering a sound design.
To sum up, both areas are vital to the success of your product and need to be accounted for in your UX process accordingly.