Despite the well-known phrase: “never judge a book by its cover”, there are plenty of “covers” being judged. Humanity favours the beautiful. The aesthetic-usability effect describes a phenomenon in which individuals perceive aesthetically pleasing designs as easier to use than other less-aesthetic designs.
The Aesthetic-Usability Effect
Aesthetically pleasing interfaces are well worth the investment, particularly if you’re up against stiff competition in the market. It has been found that those “aesthetically beautiful” designs are dramatically more effective at fostering positive attitudes and invoking feelings of loyalty and patience, which are all vital factors in the overall success of a design / product.
On the contrary, forming a negative relationship with a design results in an interaction that suppresses creativity and narrows thinking.
As users are more likely to want to try a visually appealing product, they’re more patient with minor usability issues. For instance, iPhones certainly aren’t lacking usability flaws. But we are far more tolerant towards Apple compared to what we would be towards any other less aesthetically-pleasing technology.
However, aesthetics must serve to support and enhance the functionality and content of the product. You can read more about this from our previous blog: The Truth about Content and Design.
First Impressions Count
Studies have shown that early impressions of a product influences long-term attitudes about their use and quality.
Japanese researchers, Masaaki Kurosi and Kaori Kashimura, studied different layouts of controls for ATMs in the 1990s. While all versions of the ATM were identical in function, how they operated and the number of buttons they had, some were arranged “attractively” and others “unattractively”. The study concluded that the “attractive” designs were perceived as easier to use. To ensure that these results were not “culturally specific” the same experiment was carried out in Israel with consisted results.
It was concluded that users are strongly influenced by the aesthetics of any given interface, even when they try to evaluate the underlying functionality of the system.
Aesthetics, Usability and User Research
Researchers need to be aware of the aesthetic-usability effect to avoid it preventing them from discovering usability issues during user research sessions. Whilst conducting qualitative usability testing, if you witness the participant struggling whilst using the UI, but their comments relate to the aesthetics of the interface, you:
- May have failed to create a low-stress atmosphere. The user may feel pressured to say positive things about the interface or to comment on anything to avoid uncomfortable silences; they usually find it easier to comment on visual aspects of the design.
- Could be witnessing the user being influenced by the aesthetic usability effect.
In order to avoid the above, here are a few tips that may help in future user research:
- Inform your participants at the beginning that there are no wrong answers and reassure them that all their comments are helpful
- Offer the participants the opportunity to comment during the session by asking open-ended questions, but don’t force a comment out of them. For instance, ask vague questions which direct them to think beyond the visual aspects of the UI.
- Try to keep a consistent demeanour to avoid the participant being influenced by your reactions/emotions.