“The aesthetic usability effect: How visuals can enhance user experience”

UI/UX 31-Jul-2023

When I was just starting in UX/UI Design, I thought what mattered is only UX Research, understanding user behaviour and finding the solutions to their problems but later I understood that along with all this presentation of the solution also matters. This story is about one of the core principles of UX/UI Design and how we as designers can use that principles into giving our application a competitive edge and simultaneously maintaining the core purpose or usability of the product.

Have you ever been influenced by the aesthetics or the visual appeal while shopping for your favourite car or any of your favourite products?

Why do all these brands spend a lot on packaging design or improving the aesthetic appeal of the product whether it’s vehicles, clothing, groceries etc

Or you must have definitely listened to this line “First Impression is the last impression” especially when you are meeting a person for the first time.

i.e. each and every time we tend to buy a new product or meet a new person our decisions tend to be biased towards its first “visual” appearance. then after several times of interactions, we move on to look for its functionalities or characteristics.

Similarly for a digital product(app or website), if a user is going to use it for the first time, there is a high chance that they will focus first on the visual appearance.

Studies suggest that it is also the positive emotional response towards aesthetic design in people’s brains because of which they think aesthetic designs to be more intuitive and it also makes them tolerant towards minor usability issues.

A 1999 study, A Neuropsychological Theory of Positive Affect and Its Influence on Cognition found that “Positive affect systematically influences performance on many cognitive tasks,” including positively impacting “memories, working memory, and creative problem-solving.”

Let’s understand it with the help of an example.

If you go to a restaurant and you ordered a dish that you have never tried before then naturally when that dish will be served to you your first judgement will be towards the visual appeal of that recipe and that judgement will help you to initiate the task of tasting the dish.

that’s why restaurant owners put a lot of effort into the presentation of the dish.

According to the study by Hall and Hanna, users perceived websites with white–black and black–white colour combinations as less pleasing and stimulating than ones with non-grayscale colour combinations.

An attractive appearance helps people to try new features and overcome small difficulties whereas a greyscale visual appearance makes people lose out interest in a usable product as well and makes them intolerant of minor usability issues.

We can understand it in an easier way that whenever a person is given a new task/challenge initially, the mind will hesitate to do it, but if it is presented to us in a visually appealing manner, it will help the mind initiate the task because of a positive emotional response.

Hence by using the Aesthetic Usability Effect in our digital products (app or website) people will be able to use them easily even if there are minor usability issues especially when you are launching your product for the first time.

The aesthetic usability effect is not important only in the case of digital product design but in every other field.

Usability & Aesthetics

Usability and aesthetics are the two most important factors in assessing the overall user experience for an application.

At first, users might not be able to judge or review the usability of a product easily because the focus is more on aesthetics & people are using the digital product for the first time but as soon as people will starting reusing the app/website or they will get used to with the aesthetics of the application they will easily be able to review the usability of the product and the customer retention will only be due to usability factor of the application.

Considering the previous example of a restaurant, you might like the presentation of the dish but your real review and ratings will depend upon the taste of the dish.

How cognitive style of the user affects the overall analysis of digital product?

How a user is cognitively interacting with the application matters a lot as it is somewhere finally going to influence their review/judgement of the application.

Since each and every user’s cognitive style is different i.e. how they perceive a certain flow, a certain challenge or task will be different from the rest of the people so we as designers should ensure that we must include all the user groups with different cognitive styles.

Humans fall into two cognitive style orthogonal dimensions:

  • Verbalizers: more influenced by words or verbal associations
  • Imagers: more influenced by images and aesthetics

People who fall into the category of imagers will take the help of aesthetics to understand the flow of the application.

Cultural aesthetics

Since usability and aesthetics are two important factors in designing user interfaces. Aesthetic tastes differ from culture to culture. Therefore, it is unreasonable to design a single common user interface for everyone and to expect it to attract all audiences equally. An idea is that software may automatically compose personalised interfaces based on the individual cultural backgrounds of its users. There are several different factors defining the user’s cultural background, such as the user’s first language, religion, education level, the form of education and the social or political norms of their culture.

How can we make the digital product both aesthetic and usable?

For launching a new digital product aesthetics can be the primary reason to entice users but the usability of the product will retain the users for a longer period of time.

Most of the dribble shots as you must have seen work in a similar way. they have all the visual good looking elements, and clean UI design but lack the content/information that could make the screen more usable.

So the basic idea is to first create a whole information flow or information architecture and then try to make it aesthetic.

Make sure not to miss any of the important information in order to look the screen more visually appealing otherwise as users use a product more, the usability issues (and even aesthetics) become annoying and frustrating.

Source: Google Search

For example, Google’s search engine page has been designed in such a manner that the users can easily be able to focus on the main functionalities or tasks simultaneously maintaining the aesthetics of the page.

The Aesthetic-Usability Effect & User Testing

Since the aesthetic usability effect work on the first impressions so while usability testing there is a high chance that users are not able to identify the usability issues while completing their tasks and we as designers do not get effective results from the user testing.

There is also a high chance that users are favouring the designs/tasks based on the aesthetic appeal and not on the usability factor.

To avoid bias from the aesthetic-usability effect and other influences, designers must use multiple data points, including usability testing, interviews, analytics, user research, etc., to get a holistic picture of the design and user pain points.

Why Are Aesthetics Important for Interface Design?

As we see from the aesthetic-usability effect, great usability is not enough to entice people to use your product or even like it when it performs well especially if your product is new to the market. Finding a balance between form and function is crucial for product design and will also provide a competitive edge, especially for startups or businesses entering a new market.

Considering some of the important UI principles such as choosing an accessible colour scheme, consistency in fonts, layouts & colours, white space, presenting the information in a clear & concise manner, and interaction design have a better chance of attracting new customers and it’s usability will have a better chance of retaining those customers.

You can learn more about Aesthetics Design here:


Source: UXPlanet