The Aesthetic-Usability Effect

In their article Aesthetic-Usability Effect Lidwell, Holden, and Butler describe a phenomenon where people perceive more aesthetically pleasing designs to be easier to use then less pleasing designs – even when the opposite is true. They state that there is a positive relationship formed between objects and people from aesthetic designs and that this is the reason for the bias. The article brings to light that these designs are also more accepted over time.

The effect is believed to come from the use of products under stress, where the human mind recognizes and overcomes the difficulties of aesthetic design better than the opposite. Even minor problems can be ignored because of the design. This leads to the assumption that attractive things work better. “Products designed for more relaxed, pleasant occasions can enhance their usability through pleasant, aesthetic design” (Norman, 2002).

The whole theory can be illustrated perfectly with car designs. When two car companies with similar models it is often the case that the more aesthetically pleasing model wins. The relationship between person and car is created because positive aesthetics bring about personality and competitive edge. An Audi with a better design then a Skoda will triumph, even if it’s more expensive.

This is but an obvious example. Kenji Ekuan in his book The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox discusses how user expectations and a sense of tension can be gotten from “a square, black-lacquered lunchbox, presented to a guest with a single blossom placed on top” (Ekuan, 2000). His obvious admiration for the design of a simple product shows the intended relationship built because of aesthetic qualities.

Of course it is important to note that everyone has different tastes and interpretations of what they consider “aesthetically pleasing”. The task of creating something that brings about positive emotions is impossible so products have to be designed with particular groups in mind. As “there is no universal definition of beauty and the experience will vary from user to user” (Gawley, n.d.) the effect is definitely possible but not all-inclusive.



Boulton, M. (2005, March 6). Aesthetic-Usability Effect. Retrieved from The personal disquiet of Mark Boulton:

Ekuan, K. (2000). The aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox . Tokyo, Japan: MIT Press.

Gawley, K. (n.d.). The aesthetic-usability effect. Retrieved from Kyle Gawley:

Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2010). Universal principles of design, revised and updated. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Rockport Publishers.

Norman, D. (2002). Emotion and design: Attractive things work better. Interactions Magazine, ix (4), 36-42.


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