learning portfolio part 1 – Q1

Q1. Aesthetics and Usability

In Universal Principles of Design, Lidwell, Holden and Butler introduce research indicating that people perceive “more aesthetic designs as easier to use than less-aesthetic designs – whether they are or not” (2003, p. 18).  This aesthetic-usability effect, as it is commonly known, is tied into the emotion of design.  People form emotional associations with designs, and a visually pleasing design is more likely to attract a positive emotional response.  The reason why more aesthetic designs may be perceived as more usable is speculated to be tied to the ‘halo effect’, that is, the idea that people’s opinions of a person or object can be influenced by them noticing a positive, prominent characteristic of the person or object (van Gorp & Adams, 2012, p. 404).  This is supported by social psychology research that shows attractive people are perceived to have good qualities.  In design, this leads to people inferring that visually-pleasing designs must work better.  Further, this preconception that  the visually appealing product is easier to use sets the stage for a more positive working relationship between the user and product, making “difficult tasks easier to perform” and encouraging users to be “more tolerant of minor difficulties and more flexible” (Masmoudi, Yun Dai, & Naceur, 2012, p. 188).  For example, in a study researching user interaction with technology, psychologists found that “while effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction are definitely important determinants of human–technology interaction, other aspects, such as the aesthetics of system design and emotional experiences during system usage, certainly impact on the perceived quality of use as well” (Thüring & Mahlke, 2007, p. 254).  It is argued that many successful products are embraced because they manage to “satisfy the emotional needs that were most important for their context of use” (Sonderegger & Sauer, 2010, p. 18).  Therefore there is a strong basis for designing aesthetically pleasing products. They are more likely to be perceived as usable, and more easily forgiven when they are not.


Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003). Universal Principles of Design.

Masmoudi, S., Yun Dai, D., & Naceur, A. (2012). Attention, Representation, and Human Performance : Integration of Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation. London: Taylor and Francis.  Retrieved from http://ECU.eblib.com.au/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=957267

Sonderegger, A., & Sauer, J. (2010). The influence of design aesthetics in usability testing: Effects on user performance and perceived usability. Applied Ergonomics, 41(3), 403-410.  doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.apergo.2009.09.002

Thüring, M., & Mahlke, S. (2007). Usability, aesthetics and emotions in human-technology interaction. International Journal of Psychology, 42(4), 253-264.  doi: 10.1080/00207590701396674

van Gorp, T., & Adams, E. (2012). Chapter 1 – Why Design for Emotion? Design for Emotion (pp. 1-18). Boston: Morgan Kaufmann. doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-386531-1.00001-6



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