In Defense of “Pretty” Design

Many of you as designers, and those are in the general digital product space have witnessed a change in UI design over the last several years. Apple’s famous transition to flat design helped paved the way to a new flat era. Like many of you, I was engaged in discussions and debates on whether “flat” was legitimate or just trendy, as we had for some time been living in skeuomorphism world.

Like a dynasty of family members reacting to the previous generation’s extreme tendencies, the web and app world snapped back to flat. Along with this transition, there’s been an elevation of design and the discussion of its place at the table. I for one, have been excited to see a spotlight on design grow brighter. However, as we see certain elements of design elevated, such as function and larger problem solving in general, we’ve also seen other areas of design get the black sheep treatment. And what may that black sheep be you ask? It’s “pretty” design.

I’ve decided it’s time to take a stand for “pretty”. Now, I also acknowledge I’ve sat at the cool kids table of function, reason, and data. Like a bunch of teens sitting around the lunch table, there’s been some smack talk going on about “pretty”.

I confess, I’ve gone along with this condescending talk in the past, while trying to convince others that I’m not one of “those” pretty bimbo designers. I’ll make another confession though, it certainly hasn’t made me happy. I thought I had to go along with it, to convince people I was an elite professional, and perhaps to give me more respect. I’m not interested in your “pop”, goes the dialogue in a not so direct way. Perhaps it’s just par for the course in how design has changed in the new world of the web and devices. It seems at times though that the cool kids of the startup world joined forces, to put pretty down once and and for all, with their data and logic swords.

Truth be told, designing pretty things makes me happy. I actually like making pretty visuals and interactivity. Now I can’t say the same about the whole “make it pop” thing, and I think we can all agree on that. However, I think the embrace of this collective “pretty bullying” is simply a response of fear. We as designers are afraid of having somebody who doesn’t have a design background or good taste boss us around. We’re afraid of being dismissed from the table, that we’ve been so graciously invited to. We’re afraid of being second class citizens of the tech world. We’re afraid that pretty design means we’re out of the circle, and that the cool headed critical thinkers will get all the praise, and money.

Now I’m not dismissing the reality that good UX is at the heart of a successful business, app, or website. In fact, I also whole- heartedly embrace the value of UX and design thinking, and that design is indeed more than just what’s on the surface. But I do believe pretty design should live with functional design as equals, and that it’s time to stop talking down to pretty. I for one have decided to support “pretty”, will you?


Ben Faubion is a UX/UI “pretty” designer and artist, you can view more of his work on or follow him on twitter @reactivecanvas

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