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What is the Aesthetic-Usability effect?

Sheza Naveed

Grokking Modern System Design Interview for Engineers & Managers

Ace your System Design Interview and take your career to the next level. Learn to handle the design of applications like Netflix, Quora, Facebook, Uber, and many more in a 45-min interview. Learn the RESHADED framework for architecting web-scale applications by determining requirements, constraints, and assumptions before diving into a step-by-step design process.

The Aesthetic-Usability effect refers to the users’ tendency to perceive aesthetically pleasing designs as more usable. This effect leads to the following results:

  • An aesthetically pleasing design has a positive impact on the user and thus leads them to believe that the design actually works better as well.

  • When the product or interface design is visually appealing, people tend to be more tolerant towards minor usability issues.

  • Visually pleasing design can mask usability issues, even during usability testing.

The aesthetics of an interface have a strong impact on users, even when their goal is to evaluate the underlying functionality. Aesthetic designs look easier to use, even if they are not. Therefore, UI and visual design are as important as having a good user experience (UX).

Aesthetic UIs

In the apps above, the aesthetics make the user overlook minor flaws such as the different types of arrows in the figure on the left, and the complete absence of cards on the right.

Interpreting user comments about interfaces during user research

The Aesthetic-Usability effect can come into play during usability testing. If a user is struggling through different tasks in a usability testing setting, but their feedback is a vague comment, there can be multiple reasons why:

  1. Pressure to comment.

  2. Pressure to say good things.

  3. Aesthetic-Usability effect: usability flaws need fixation, but the aesthetic-usability effect makes the user overlook the flaws and still form a positive opinion.

To counter the pressure to comment or say good things, the user should be assured intermittently that they are doing a good job and should keep going. The user should be ensured that you are here to learn from them and that it is not an obligation to comment on something positive.

To counter the Aesthetic-Usability effect, users should be probed with questions such as, “How easy or difficult do you think this feature was to use?” However, care must be taken not to give a direction to the user towards a specific positive or negative response. The questions must be kept vague and neutral.

It is important to note that although aesthetics can mask minor usability issues, they cannot cover major usability flaws. So the UX of the interface is still of paramount importance.

Home screen of an eating disorders app

In the app above, even though the home screen is aesthetic, user reviews suggest that the aesthetics could not overcome the usability flaws (such as complex user flows and too many options), leading to excessive cognitive overload.

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hci
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design

CONTRIBUTOR

Sheza Naveed
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Grokking Modern System Design Interview for Engineers & Managers

Ace your System Design Interview and take your career to the next level. Learn to handle the design of applications like Netflix, Quora, Facebook, Uber, and many more in a 45-min interview. Learn the RESHADED framework for architecting web-scale applications by determining requirements, constraints, and assumptions before diving into a step-by-step design process.

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