Practical vs. Pretty: Finding Balance Between Features and Design


With all the buzz about Cal Newport’s latest book Digital Minimalism, I’ve been thinking a lot about intentional use of technology. It’s something that’s always in the back of my mind, but right now, it’s front and center.

As a self-proclaimed power user, I’ve always had a thing for finding the best apps. Finding the “best” app meant finding the app that let me accomplish what I want while spending the least amount of time doing it, which usually meant finding the “pro” app with the most features.

But something else recently slipped into my decision process – almost without me noticing.

“Best” is no longer just about what saves me the most time. It also now includes whether or not I enjoy using it. The Marie Kondo’s of the world might ask, “Does it spark joy?”

These days, I’m becoming less and less interested in the apps with the most features. Features mean nothing if I don’t enjoy using the app. I don’t think I’m alone in this.

Almost weekly, I discover a former OmniFocus user discussing why he or she has switched to Things. Things is not only practical. It’s pretty. It’s the balance between practical and pretty that wins people over. It’s why people really enjoy using it.

Another example is something I’ve been struggling to write about…

In the tech world, once you write about using an app, there’s a belief that you’ll continue to use it in perpetuity. It’s an odd belief, really. Just because I blogged on LiveJournal when I was little doesn’t mean I should still be using it for this blog today. Our needs change. Our thoughts change. Technology does as well.

So with that disclaimer out of the way…

I’ve recently succumbed to DevonThink’s terribly outdated UI and moved back to Evernote. Like OmniFocus, DevonThink is still an incredibly powerful (practical) app that I highly recommend for archival knowledge management. For daily knowledge management, however, I just didn’t enjoy looking at it which kept me from using it to its full extent. To be fair, I don’t particularly enjoy using Evernote either, but based on the balance of practicality AND pretty, Evernote wins.

More and more, I’m finding myself swapping practical apps out for prettier apps, and I’m seeing others do the same. I can’t help but wonder if this is part of a larger trend of people really starting to rethink how they use their technology and why. If it is a trend, I’m excited to see where this new wave of both practical and pretty apps can take us.

Photo by mnm.all on Unsplash


5 thoughts on “Practical vs. Pretty: Finding Balance Between Features and Design

  1. flanker says:

    Yep, I’d agree. I’ve finally given in fighting with OmniFocus (despite spending a fortune on it over the years) and gone to Todoist – it’s got some annoying quirks, but it’s pleasant to use which means I use it more regularly and live with the missing features/quirks. If Things had a trial version it’s likely I’d have tried it first and probably been sold. Likewise I’ve dumped all my notes/writing/blogging/archiving tool and just use Bear plus iCloud Drive for the lot. It’s a joy to use and competent enough to replace Evernote, Notes, DevonThink etc.

    I think it’s a case of the technologies starting to mature – all cars can pretty much accomplish the same things, but (within a budget) you wouldn’t buy one you didn’t like.

    • Andrea says:

      I want to like Todoist, but I can’t live without my start dates. I do believe Things 3 on the Mac does have a trial version from their website, but nothing for iOS. For me, the lack of an iOS trial was my biggest gamble, but I’m glad I took it.

      I would agree though on the maturing technologies, and the car analogy is a perfect way of thinking about it.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  2. Deb says:

    Has DevonThink 3 done enough to tempt you back? I’ve been toying with buying DevonThink for a few months, but, in validation of your point, the UI kept putting me off.

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Deb,

      Admittedly, I’m still testing the waters. The UI is definitely a big improvement, although still not as clean as I’d like it to be. My biggest sticking point at the moment is that some of the app integrations I rely on regularly (e.g. exporting to Airmail) still leave a lot to be desired -admittedly that’s particular one is an Airmail issue not DevonThink though.

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