Luke O'Shaughnessy — Posted on May 24th, 2016
Love this. MASSIVE fan of talented visual designers that makes epic user experience.
It doesn’t sound right, the idea that visual design could be as or more important than usability. But it shouldn’t surprise us. Humans are attracted to things and people they find aesthetically pleasing, to the point that studies have shown that both adults and children are more likely to trust someone they find attractive. The same theory seems to be true of apps and sites: people are more likely to give an attractive application the benefit of the doubt.
In this article we’ll look at why people prefer attractive interfaces, what it says about us as humans, and how we as UX practitioners can use this knowledge to create better user experiences.
Before we discuss aesthetics in UX, there’s a question we need to answer. What does it mean for a thing to be objectively attractive? It is, quite literally, a question for the ages. Philosophers going as far back as Pythagoras have asked what beauty is, with Pythagorean followers determining that beauty is “a manifestation of harmonious, mathematical relations such as the golden section.” Many mathematician philosophers have since attempted to quantify beauty.
Voltaire, on the other hand, argued that beauty is impossible to define, perhaps giving rise to the statement “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Empiricists follow this belief, seeing beauty as akin to pleasure, and as reflective of the person who sees the beauty as the thing that is beautiful.
There are scientists who believe that the things we find aesthetically pleasing are those that are healthiest for us. Thus, illness makes people look “unattractive,” and things like berries, which are good for us, are also things we find visually pleasing. There are significant holes in that theory (just think of beautiful poisonous frogs), but there may be merit in it.
Alternatively, some argue that beauty comes from societal and cultural attitudes. Consider the fact that in the United States, most children watch Disney films at a young age, reinforcing the idea that witches and evildoers are ugly, and heroes and heroines are beautiful, but it goes deeper than that. Plenty of fashion items, facial hair trends, even body shapes are deemed attractive now, influenced heavily by the media surrounding us daily; in ten years, those same trends will seem embarrassing or sad. As cultural attitudes change, so does how that culture defines beauty.
Let’s translate that to UX design. There may be certain interactions or site elements that we feel are attractive because we associate them with usability. At the same time, there are web trends and visual assets that may seem attractive now, but won’t hold the same pull in a few months or years. For example, there was a time that comic sans was the font of choice, and flash splash pages were a symbol of a well-designed site.
With the understanding that there is no one “perfectly beautiful” aesthetic, we can now delve into the role of visual design in UX. After all, it’s far more than merely making things pretty.
User experience design incorporates interaction design and user interface design, thus focusing on communication. Visual design sits right in the middle, incorporating static images and visuals with the purpose of improving communication and usability.
Visual design can actually make a huge difference in the way users see a screen (pun intended). It’s even possible that users have come to expect more from visually attractive screens: better functionality, more usable, and more human.
Hope you enjoyed my share!