Aesthetic-Usability Effect Examples

The Aesthetic-Usability Effect is a theory that people perceive more aesthetic designs to work better then less aesthetic designs. Below are three examples from my life that I would consider to achieve the effect.

Example 1: Dyson Vacuum

Dyson

A very popular example of the effect at work. Dyson is a brand well known for its quality above and beyond other vacuum cleaners. While a considerable amount of this certainly comes from the actual effectiveness of the product, it almost certainly out performs brands of similar quality because of the brands well known unique look. Unlike many companies behind such common household products, one can tell Dyson have put a lot of thought into the functionally useless design of their product, and they have since the beginning. It has certainly proven to be effective.

Example 2: Toaster

Toaster

This is a more personal example than the last. Toasters do not vary greatly in their quality. A task as simple as toasting bread in a satisfactory way for most on even the cheapest product. However this sleek and retro design would most definitely make it stand out against other brands, even if its function is the same. A much more positive relationship can be made with such a sleek model than the boring old silver toaster. The knobs, buttons and dials make even this almost always automatic product seem easier to use than the competition.

Example 3: Dragon Egg Paper Weight

Egg

A very simple example. Function wise there is literally no difference between this and a bland one. I can confirm aesthetics was the sole reason for my purchase of this item. The well designed item, I thought would do a better job at the effortlessly simple task of holding down papers, regardless of its higher price tag. It again comes down to forming a relationship, even to an item like this. Extremely simple items such as this are perfect in demonstrating the effect as their function is so similar that bias for aesthetics can easily be observed.

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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.

 

References:

Boulton, M. (2005, March 6). Aesthetic-Usability Effect. Retrieved from The personal disquiet of Mark Boulton: http://www.markboulton.co.uk/journal/aesthetic-usability-effect

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: http://kylegawley.com/journal/the-aesthetic-usability-effect/

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.