How to respond to criticism that "it looks ugly"?

The biggest barrier lately is when we evaluate high fidelity drawings and the CEO basically says, “It’s ugly. I don’t know what’s wrong but fix it.” I work in a small company, so we move quite quickly. Therefore, before we begin development, we iterate the design numerous times. 90% of the time, it has to do with something that isn’t essential for the product’s success at this moment, like the size of a button.

We typically reach a consensus on the major issues and priorities with ease, but then get bogged down with UI debates.

I would value any guidance on how to successfully lead these discussions in order to save time and my sanity.


Is this a product customer-facing? How can the UI not be essential to the product’s success? Even if your product idea is the best in the world, it won’t sell if it looks like Windows 95. Perhaps spending more time on the UI or hiring/contracting a designer to produce a high-quality UI will solve the issue.

I may be more sensitive to it than other people, but I detest products with a subpar/bad user interface. If there is a good substitute, I steer clear of utilizing certain goods because it is so off-putting. Using a shoddy user interface is soul-crushing.


@CarlosDubois, That most certainly applies to our product because it is intended for consumers and aesthetics are crucial. The issue is that the adjective “ugly” doesn’t offer me a lot to work with.


You are free to ask follow-up queries. Consider shifting the focus away from ugly vs. lovely and rephrasing the question to focus on the goals of our users: “How do you think this will affect our user’s goals negatively?”

Your task is to obtain useful input from the CEO, who is in some ways your user.


I’m assuming you don’t employ a designer full-time. If so, you should use a contractor to create a color scheme and style manual for your app. Obtain the CEO’s approval for a few mockups with the new look.

Apply it entirely to your current UI after that. And make sure your developers are aware they must adhere to it at all times going forward.

If your employer is unwilling to pay a UI/UX contractor:

Request that your marketing department create a color scheme for you. Moreover, choose a website that both you and the CEO agree has a good design, assign one of your developers the task of extracting all the crucial CSS metrics from it (such as button height, button label font, button label padding, button corner radius, button elevation, etc.), and then create a style guide that emulates the design elements of that website.


@RohitKumar, Ah yes, one must adore a sound design framework. simplifies things in the long run.

Until the company’s chief executive officer is replaced.


Piling on, I wholeheartedly concur. Having a library of standard styles and components is very helpful.

Another choice is to buy an off-the-shelf web front-end “theme” (which will include HTML/CSS/JS assets that all work together) if the product is a web app and you don’t have a designer. Then, you can only create custom UI elements when the theme doesn’t provide you with what you need for a feature’s UI. Many of these themes are available for purchase online (e.g., at HTML Templates - HTML Website Templates | ThemeForest) and can be purchased for under $100. They include page layouts, sidebar navigation, tabbed UI elements, buttons, form fields, checkboxes, date pickers, and much more. When building a screen or adding new elements to a page to support a new feature, these default “menus” of options (like a set of lego pieces) save so much time that I’ve used them numerous times.

Even though it isn’t particularly attractive, it is very quick to set up and add new front-end features as the roadmap develops. And it’s difficult to maintain a straight face when people compliment the UI/UX of a product for which I used a front-end theme. When deciding whether to build or buy, a B2B sales prospect actually said to me, “We could maybe build some of what this does, but we definitely couldn’t make such a polished UI like this.” Oh, you don’t have $25 for this theme? I wanted to reply.

In response to the original commenter, if you can combine the alignment into a single choice of theme that best suits us (or which website do we want to pay homage to by copying their general styling), that should save you a ton of time as you create feature after feature. Eventually, you’ll hopefully outgrow whatever you did to start and want to start over from scratch to get everything just right. But in my opinion, it’s a good problem to have. It is extremely frustrating to try to make everything perfect at the expense of speed because you are constantly trying to determine what is and is not working.

The best trade-off, in my opinion, is one that enables quick movement while maintaining a consistent user interface throughout the app.


Navigating design feedback and reaching consensus, especially when it comes to finer UI details, can indeed be a challenging process. Here are some strategies that might help you streamline the design review process and avoid unnecessary back-and-forth:

  1. Establish Design Principles and Guidelines: Before starting any design work, establish a set of design principles and guidelines that reflect your company’s brand and user experience goals. This can provide a framework for discussions and help avoid subjective disagreements.
  2. Involve the CEO Early: Involve the CEO in the design process from the beginning, so they have a better understanding of the design decisions being made and the rationale behind them. This could help prevent last-minute subjective feedback.
  3. Educate About Design: If the CEO lacks a design background, offer a short presentation or workshop on design principles, terminology, and best practices. This can improve communication and align everyone’s expectations.
  4. Prototype Before High Fidelity: Consider creating low-fidelity prototypes or wireframes first. This allows you to focus on layout, structure, and functionality before diving into detailed visual design. Getting feedback at this stage can help catch major issues early.
  5. Prioritize Feedback: Encourage the CEO to provide feedback based on priorities. If they feel something is “ugly,” ask for specific aspects that bother them the most and focus on addressing those. It’s important to identify what truly impacts the user experience.
  6. User-Centered Approach: Shift the focus from personal preferences to user needs. Ask questions like, “How would our target users perceive this design element?” or “Does this design choice align with our users’ expectations?”
  7. Data-Driven Decisions: Whenever possible, support design decisions with data. Use A/B testing or user testing to gather feedback from actual users and make design choices based on what works best for them.
  8. Use Design Reviews: Implement regular design review meetings where you discuss design choices and rationale. This can help align everyone’s understanding and ensure that concerns are addressed early on.
  9. Present Multiple Options: Instead of presenting a single design, provide a few alternative design options. This can shift the conversation from “good” or “bad” to a more constructive comparison between different approaches.
  10. Mockup Annotations: If a specific UI element like a button size is causing issues, use tools to add annotations directly to the design mockup. This way, feedback can be precise and actionable.
  11. Visual References: Use visual references from other successful products to illustrate design choices. Sometimes showing examples can help clarify design intent.
  12. Time-Box Feedback: Set a specific time limit for design feedback discussions. This encourages focused discussions and prevents prolonged debates over minor details.
  13. Iterate Rapidly: Establish a rapid iteration cycle where you make small adjustments based on feedback and quickly present revised designs. This can help prevent design discussions from becoming prolonged.
  14. Separate Feedback Stages: Split design review into two stages: one for layout and functionality, and another for visual aesthetics. This allows you to prioritize discussions based on impact.
  15. Design Language Document: Maintain a design language document that outlines common design elements, their usage, and reasoning. This can serve as a reference for discussions.
  16. External Design Review: Consider seeking feedback from external design experts who can provide an objective perspective and help mediate discussions.

Remember that effective communication and understanding are key. By implementing these strategies and maintaining a collaborative and user-centered mindset, you can help streamline the design review process and focus on what truly matters for the success of your product.

Hope this helps.


@BinaCampos, making a note of that, never even considered this option but it sound amazing for $25.

@AnushkaGarg, thank you for the suggestions.


This. Additionally, you ought to develop brand behavior patterns that use a consistent aesthetic in both digital and non-digital media. Your marketing team should be working hard on this front, but many of them are still stuck in the 1980s and require encouragement.


This issue is easily resolved through user testing. Basically, test the design, and if it passes, emphasize that in your discussion with the CEO. Any CEO that would care more about something “looking good” than it preforming well screams of toxic culture and poor leadership.


@CoreyAmorin, I don’t see where the OP (@AlbertChappel) claimed that the CEO prioritizes aesthetics over functionality. On the contrary, the OP claimed that they agree in terms of functionality.

Their CEO is correct, appearances do matter. The fact that our main rival has an unpleasant user interface benefits us commercially.

People make decisions based on emotion and then use facts to support them, any salesperson worth their salt will tell you. Aesthetics stir up our feelings.

Their CEO is correct to want both strong functionality and a pleasing user interface.


@LawrenceMartin, everything must look good in terms of appearance; however, since appearances are subjective, results are more important. Trust your product development and design team; a CEO has far more important things to worry about than arguing with the team over a product’s aesthetics. Trust the team, find a solution, check the outcomes, and step aside for your team.


I completely concur if the CEO oversees a business with 1000 employees. I would contend that they have every right to have an opinion on appearances if they are the founder of a small startup, particularly if they are unable to afford a design FTE.


If you are not a designer and are the CEO of a small startup, you should (in my opinion) hire one (FTE, founder, or Freelance). You should have faith that your team is being diligent. You can certainly have an opinion, but the proof will always be in the eating. If there is something I don’t “like,” I can say so and then rely on my team to make the decision. Follow up, then confirm whether it was successful or not.

It is not your responsibility as the CEO of a startup to make design decisions. There are countless other things for you to worry about and concentrate on. I completely concur that the founder can and should have a voice in decisions regarding the product.

Just my two cents.


I can’t find anywhere in the OP’s post where they claim that the CEO decides on design decisions (e.g., they aren’t making mockups that specify the layout or workflows, etc.). They’re only offering a viewpoint on the work the team is preparing. According to the OP, the CEO doesn’t even make decisions like “make that button bigger.” Simply put, they are saying, “That’s ugly, fix it.”

Odds are, if the CEO thinks it’s ugly, so will a percentage of the customers. Coming up with design decisions that everyone involved likes will likely result in fewer customers thinking the product is ugly.

The company cannot be a success if the product sucks. I don’t begrudge a founder/CEO of a small company wanting to review designs before stuff gets developed and put into production. It’s their baby.

I agree completely that getting a designer involved is the right move.

Not going to lie, I’m having a little bit of trouble reconciling you framing yourself as a CEO who trusts their Product team to override their decisions yet who is very active on this forum but not those for entrepreneurs…


It’s difficult to say without actually seeing it.

You might compare some products that are similar to your product.

Test your products, please. Not everyone will agree that something is ugly just because one person does.

Drive through some design validation exercises as much as you can.

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Thank you so much for your very thoughtful insights and feedback. They were really helpful. I truly appreciate it. It made a big difference in my understanding of the issue and will greatly contribute to my future decisions. I am grateful for your support.