Let's be honest, we all want our software to look like it stepped out of an Apple ad. However, looking good should never come at the cost of getting the basics right. I’d go so far as to say that the visual aspect of your software should be the last thing you worry about (almost). If the foundations of your software are shaky, i.e.; potential users don't even make it past the signup process, then no amount of hitting it with the pretty stick will work!

For a SaaS to thrive, 3 things are needed.

  • Great pain - The software needs to fill a legitimate customer need.
  • Great usability - The software needs to work as the customer expects it to (or even surpass their expectations).
  • Great marketing. – You need to get customers to your software.

So where does (visual) design fit into building a great SaaS? It doesn’t, at least not yet. And why? Because design doesn’t matter…as much as you’d think...Right now.

A beautiful interface is nice to have, but a good user experience is a must-have if you want your business to succeed.

It is perfectly feasible for an ugly SaaS with great UX to make millions in revenue and for a thousand beautiful ones with terrible UX to go the way of the dodo in their first 12 months. I know because I work on these ugly ducklings

Many UI designers will disagree with me, and before building my first SaaS I would have been one of them. After all, a professional design builds trust, generates confidence, pushes customers to signup and all that good stuff... But if that confidence is lost as soon as they start using your software, what was the point in hiring (and paying for) a visual designer?

Think about it this way…

Imagine you have a house up for sale. It’s not in great shape. There’s damp, it smells, the walls are full of cracks and the roof leaks, not to mention the fact that it hasn’t seen a lick of paint in years. What do you do? You might call in the painters, right? It needs to look presentable for all those potential buyers.

So, the painters get to work and do a great job. The house looks like a million dollars. 

The next day your first potential buyers arrive and are immediately impressed. “Wow, this looks great”. They walk into the house and start looking around, then say, “What’s that smell?”.

As they walk around some more, they notice that the house isn’t all they’d hoped it would be. The deep-set cracks are showing through the paint…and wouldn’t you know it, it begins to rain! Slowly but surely the roof starts to leak, and drips all over your interested buyers.

Feeling more than a little cheated, the potential buyers turn and leave in a hurry.

We can see the parallel, right?

I know this is only one side of the argument, but to illustrate my point, it will do! :)

It's very hard to turn a sub-par user experience into an acceptable one just by slapping some UI makeup goodness on it. However, take a solid user experience and apply that same UI magic, and voila! You have a winner.

So the next time you see an ugly app that does a great job, maybe don't be too quick to judge. It could be making millions!