A while ago I posted this formula:
Good product design: value for users > ease of use > speed > design
I’d like to explain my reasonings behind it.
What is product design? It’s the combination of what a product does, and how it does it.
Product designers have more responsibility than simply choosing how things should look or behave. They build the way users interact with the product. They need to take into account a large amount of criteria to do their job effectively. However, it’s worth asking the question of which criteria should be prioritized over others in the design process, if you can’t afford to cover the whole spectrum of what constitutes a good product design practice.
The most important thing a product (or feature) should do is bring value to the user. Any other consideration comes second. Your product can be slow, ugly, not easy to use, buggy - if your work is going to help users solve a specific problem they suffer with, they will endure anything to use it. You can’t say the same thing for a beautiful product that does not bring any value - no one will use it.
Once you are sure that the product or the feature brings value, you can put your energy on creating a great user experience. This doesn’t mean making it beautiful, or even pretty. Just really simple to use, or really easy to understand. Users will come to your product because you’ve promised them something - this can be summed up by either making their lives easier, or their jobs simpler. They will want to take advantage of your solution as quickly as possible and will value less your product if they can’t do what you are asking them to do in a simple way, or if it’s so complex that it makes them feel stupid.
Once your product brings enough value and is simple to use, you will want to focus on speed. Great products are fast. They don't waste the precious time of their users. The faster a product is, the more confident you feel about it. Most of the teams I’ve worked with think a feature is shipped once the code is done and the quality assurance passes. However a feature should not be considered as complete if it’s not as fast as it could be. Your product is the sum of your features. If you start to introduce slow features here and there, the whole will suffer eventually. Users devaluate slow products.
Finally, once a product brings enough value, is easy to use and is fast, you can make it pretty if you have time left or enough money to afford this process. But it’s not necessary per se. I would go as far as saying that if something brings enough value to the user, design is irrelevant. How things look is cherry on the cake. Design in itself shouldn’t be your main differentiator. It will help to differentiate a little bit your product from its competitors when you’ll become successful and many copycats will do exactly what you do exactly the same way. That being said, if your main differentiator is just a matter of design, you have other problems to solve first. Design is a trend that change often and quickly. What’s seen as beautiful today will be less valued tomorrow, just because.
Every day, I use Monica. And every day, I wished it had a better design, a better UX and it was faster. But I don't prioritize those aspects at all - and while it pains me a lot, I prefer creating value as much as possible first and foremost. When Monica will reach a state where we can afford taking some time to make things better, that means we would have created a product that brings tremendous value, that is extremely easy to use and fast enough for everyone. We are not there yet.
To sum up, what would you like your users to say about your work? Is it “Ok, it’s not pretty, but it’s so useful that I don't mind”, or “Ok, it’s beautiful, but I don't see why this product even exists”.