I love a good UI. Especially one where you can tell that the person making it really took the time to pay attention to all the little details.

But I’ve used some apps that have truly beautiful UIs but little in the way of actual utility or usefulness. Or, they may have nailed the look, but missed the boat on the interaction design or information architecture. Apps like these are like an attractive stranger you meet at the bar, but once they open their mouth you immediately regret ever meeting them.

I’m a fan of analogies. There are probably plenty of analogies for describing this. The one that comes to mind is “putting lipstick on a pig.” This works well, but somehow isn’t rooted in reality. I’ve seen some pigs in my time, but never anyone that tried to put lipstick on one. It doesn’t seem like a pig would just go along with that.

So, let’s try something more grounded: your app or website is like a cake.

Your standard cake is made of…uh…cake. I think standard cakes are frosted as well. Anyway, I like to think of UI as frosting on a cake. When you first see a cake (uncut), all you see is that lovely frosting. That soft, sugar-packed goodness also completes the flavor of a bite of cake.

Frosting can disguise all manner of issues with the cake itself. If your cake tastes like shit, but you have a lovely frosting all over it, it doesn’t change the fact that you have a shit cake.

So UI is like frosting. To be clear, I’m not saying that frosting is not important. If you bake a great cake, but it has terrible frosting on it, sure you can eat it, but you probably won’t enjoy it. If you have another choice of cake next time, you’ll probably pick the one with better frosting.

But you can’t have a piece of cake without a good…cake.

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