Aesthetic Usability Effect: How aesthetics influence us?

In this article, we will discuss how aesthetics influences our perception of a product. We will also dive deeper into what aesthetic usability is and its influence on us.

What is Aesthetic Usability Effect?

Aesthetic usability effect is a phenomenon where people consider more aesthetic designs to be easier to use than less aesthetic designs.

So what is aesthetics? In design, aesthetics is the measure of how visually appealing a product is. A product with a visually pleasing design is associated with having good aesthetics.

It is a known fact that people always prefer things that are pleasing to their eyes. People tend to buy something that either looks flashy or polished.

While designing a product, we use aesthetics to influence user’s emotions to create a feeling of trustworthiness and quality.

How aesthetics influence us? – Aesthetic bias

We are all guilty of buying wine based on how the bottle looks. It doesn’t matter how it tastes. A premium looking bottle must have a premium taste. At the very least, it looks more expensive than it actually is. Aesthetic does influence our judgment.

buying wine bottle based on how fancy the bottle looks
Wine’s bottle design can make it look more premium than it actually is.

Aesthetic designs have a higher probability of adoption.

Aesthetically pleasing designs are generally more inviting for these users. Users are more inclined to perceive these designs as more usable whether they are easy to use or not. But, less aesthetic designs are more likely to suffer from a lack of acceptance.

Let’s say we were scouting for a workout app in the play store. The decision to download might depend on various factors such as reviews, ratings, download volume, brand recognizability.

But, many of us tend to look at the first three screenshot images to make the decision. First impressions are important. People tend to form behavioral attitudes based on their first impressions of everything.

app screenshots plays a major role in download decision
First three screenshots in the Play store can be a major factor in download decision. App screenshot of 8fit workout.

Users overlook minor flaws of an aesthetically pleasing product

Aesthetics in some cases can make users more tolerant of minor issues encountered. An aesthetically pleasing design can make people tolerate the usability issues that they might find.

beats headphones practicality vs beauty comparison
The design and overall feel of the Beats headphones are quite premium. Not so much can be said about the sound quality. Original Photo by Alexander Hess on Unsplash.

We are all familiar with Beat’s headphones. The quality of its sounds is debatable. But we can all agree that they are not the best sounding headphones out there. So, why is it that Beats sell so well? Why is the brand associated with luxury?

There is no doubt that the product looks sleek and expensive. And celebrity marketing does give it a premium feel. So, it does matter how a product is perceived by the users.

Not only can aesthetics make the user more tolerable of the issue, but it can also mask some of the issues with your product.

Aesthetic-usability example by scientific research

Let’s now take a look at more of scientific research. Two researchers from the Hitachi Design Center, Masaaki Kurosu and Kaori Kashimura studied this effect back in 1996.

252 study participants tested on 26 variations of ATM UI. These participants were to rate each design based on their ease of use and its aesthetic appeal.

They found out that there was a strong connection between the participant’s ratings of aesthetic appeal and perceived ease of use. It was then concluded that aesthetics have a strong effect on users on any given interface.

For more detailed data, please refer to the research on Apparent usability vs Inherent usability experiment.

Aesthetics, no doubt influences us and our choices. While it seems like we are making rational decisions, we will always have a speck of influence from the aesthetics.

Usability vs Aesthetic

We associate aesthetics with positive emotions. And, we associate usability with comfort and ease.

After the Hitachi experiment, a lot of studies were done to replicate the same result. The results implied that people conclude aesthetically pleasing ones are more usable.

Form over Function: What happens when we prioritize aesthetics over usability?

Form should never be prioritized over function. We discussed how aesthetics does make a product more desirable. But, no user will have enough patience to keep up with all the usability issues before they move on to the next product.

Form and function should always be equally prioritized. Initially, for any app, aesthetics will have a bigger influence on users. However, to keep the users invested, both usability and aesthetics have an equal influence.

Summing up and further reading

Making a product should always appeal to the user. Creating an easy-to-use product should also be a priority.

If you ask me, finding the perfect balance between aesthetics and usability is the best way to go. The UI part of your product should enforce the awesome UX you built and vice-versa.

If you are looking to test your products for aesthetic vs usability, I would suggest you read up on 6 Reasons to Start Usability Testing.

If you are new to aesthetics in UI design, then have a look at my article about the basic principles of design.

Leave a Comment