by Morgan Strauss
Here’s one for the “strange but true” file: the Aesthetic-Usability Effect. Basically, this means that a user will perceive a more attractive design to be easier to use than an uglier one. It doesn’t actually matter if it is easier to use or not, it will be perceived that way, and this applies to everything from cars to computers. A good example is the iPad as a system control device. It’s a sleek, stylish product that many consumers love using for control, even though it doesn’t offer the same functionality and ease of use as a dedicated controller.
So what does this effect mean for GUIs? Well, it shows us that functionality isn’t everything. Art and design are equally important, because a pretty interface is going to be perceived as easier to use even if it isn’t. And while this is certainly a good case for using high-quality, professional graphics in any interface design; it’s not a substitute for good planning. In fact, the Aesthetic-Usability Effect really underscores our design process, which we have discussed in previous columns. In our process, we take care of functionality early, nailing it down with sketching and wireframing before we even think of aesthetics. This is because once you start with the art; it quickly becomes the sole focus for the user. Users feel that superior usability is inherent in aesthetically pleasing designs. Prove them right and make sure your interface has the functionality to match the eye candy.
Morgan Strauss is the president of Guifx, an interface design studio specializing in touchscreen interfaces for home automation and embedded systems. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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