Are side firing woofers only for aesthetics?

I have read that side firing woofers are there for improved sonics but I think they are designed into the speaker to give it a smaller footprint (WAF) and to look cool. Does anyone else think this is the aim of the speaker designers?
Yes I know bass is essentially non directional. Still I have always preferred speakers with front facing woofers with rare exceptions.
Actually it does have a lot to do with the ear's ability to localise the position of a sound source.I would also think with all drivers firing front.You would have to listen further back then side firing...just my take and if wrong I stand to be corrected..always willing to learn.
If placing the woofer on a side panel allows for a narrower front surface, then all things being equal, the speaker should image better. You can have your cake and eat it too!
Like everything else in audio the particular design is everything. Speakers like Audio Physics do very well with a side firing woofer that otherwise would not fit the cabinet. A narrow cabinet has less diffraction effects than a wide one so there are sonic reasons to use them but they are not in themselves better or worse than front facing ones. Less diffraction but generally harder to place in room due to more complex radiation pattern.It all boils down to whether you like the sound of a particular speaker, the design parameters are secondary.
As one responder wrote, they should image better due to a narrower front baffle. That said, the speakers I've used with side-firing woofers have been a bit problematic in the bass in my rooms when speakers with front-firing woofers have worked better. And I'm speaking of the VMPS RM30's, which were less problematic than the Audio Physic Virgo II's I had in a smaller room. Both of those have side firing woofers but the Virgo Woofers are crossed at around 600Hz (fairly high), and the VMPS around 250Hz (worked better).

Speakers with down-firing woofers have worked well for me. My NSR's have a down-firing woofer, while all my others are now front-firing, including a pair of VMPS RM2's. The dipole Maggies fire both ways but also seem to work well for me.
My Coincident speakers are narrow profile with side mounted woofers(2x 10 inches per side).In my room they work just fine and very often totally seem to disappear. You also have the option to face the woofers out or inward depending on preference and room.I`d give a very positive yes for this approach.
I currently own 3 pair of floorstanders with side firing woofers(Canton Karat M-70,Coincident Partial Eclipse,& Infinity Kappa 400).This configuration works well in both rooms where I listen,even though placement is closer to the sidewall/corner than I would prefer.As Charles1dad said,the ability to place the speakers with the bass drivers facing inward helps.In other rooms the opposite may be true.
The benefits of side firing woofers from the Coincident Speaker website.

"Mirror Imaged Side Firing Woofers - Advantages

Unlike the majority of other speaker companies that place their woofers on the front of their speakers, Coincident mounts their woofers on the side of the enclosures in a mirror imaged configuration.This is done because there are 3 distinct advantages with NO downside.

1. Elimination of Diffraction Effects -

Since the largest drivers,(the woofers), are mounted on the side of the enclosure, the front baffle can be made as narrow as the smaller midrange drivers, thereby eliminating diffraction effects, (which are responsible for impairing image width and creating high frequency smearing).

2. Flexibility of Speaker Placement -

Because the side firing woofers are mirror imaged, there are two positions to avoid room standing waves - woofers aiming to the inside or to the outside. In a room devoid of standing waves, (a very rare phenomenon), there would be absolutely no sonic difference whether the woofers were firing inside or outside, (so long as there is sufficient distance to the side wall in the case of outside firing). This is so because the crossover frequency to the woofers is so low, (typically 125 hz), where the wavelengths are very long, (in the range of 9 ft). This means that the woofers can be placed a distance as much as 9 ft away from the midrange units and still achieve seamless driver integration.

The Stereophile Show 2001 provides a dramatic real world illustration of the benefits of mirror imaged side firing woofers. The demonstration rooms were plagued with a standing wave centered at 100 hz ( elevated in amplitude by 12db!). This was the case when the Total Eclipse woofers were firing to the outside and as other exhibitors experienced, when the woofers were front facing . However, when the woofers aimed to fire to the inside, the room standing wave was avoided and flat frequency response to below 30 hz was achieved.

3. Simulation of Steep Crossover Slope-

Since high frequencies are directional, (low frequencies are not), aiming the woofers to the side of the listening position causes out of band high frequency information to be attenuated, thereby simulating an acoustical high pass filter. Therefore, the electrical first order crossover (chosen for reasons of purity and phase coherency- attenuates out of band frequencies at a rate of 6db per octave), of Coincident speakers act more like an acoustical third order slope (with its advantages of steeper attenuation- 18db per octave- of unwanted out of band high frequencies), but with no sonic penalty since no additional electrical components are added to the signal path."