A few weeks ago Tech Crunch ran an article on the dangers of putting aesthetics ahead of design (and by design I mean how something works, not what it looks like)…
Focus on the benefit to the user. What’s the user problem and how do you solve it? In the beginning, use off-the-shelf icons. Use Balsamiq. Come up with a basic design, build a basic app, and hand it off to users. Spend minimal time on what it looks like. Before you’ve resolved the core issues in your app, don’t waste cycles on visual design. If you need help from a designer, reach out to an interaction designer or a product designer. You don’t need a visual designer pumping out pretty pixels. You may need someone to help you clarify how to make your product work and accomplish it in a simple and engaging way.
I’ve been guilty of doing this myself. I like using beautiful things, and I want the things I make to be beautiful, too. But they should be, first and foremost, useful and desirable. They should find product/market fit as quickly as possible.
Recently, I’ve started throwing together rapid prototypes using tools like Twitter Bootstrap instead of spending hours crafting custom code. I’ll spend a half-hour or so sketching some basic layouts, throw them together in plain HTML, and then get them in front of people for testing and iteration.
Later, once I’ve got something that people want, I’ll refine the aesthetics and make improvements on the interface.
I don’t always succeed at this. As a designer, I obsess over the details. I have to fight the urge to sweat the less important stuff and focus on the bigger issue of product/market fit. But like all habits, this can be learned.
Twitter Bootstrap is bigger than I need for most projects, and it uses graceful degradation instead of progressive enhancement, but it’s still my favorite rapid prototyping framework. If you’re designing mobile apps, you might try using Ratchet (it’s from the same folks as Bootstrap).
For my next project I think I’m going to try Hammer, an app that makes it easier to write plain HTML sites (create for rapid prototyping). A lot of people swear by SASS or LESS, but for quick designs, I still prefer to write in plain CSS and HTML.