Attractive User Experiences

How Attractive User Experiences Deliver Unexpected Payoffs

By Dorothy Shamonsky, Ph.D.

People love beautiful things. Earthshaking information, right?

What’s significant is that our appreciation extends beyond our conscious behavior. Over a decade ago, usability expert Don Norman made the argument in his book Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things that “attractive things work better.” What he was really saying, with clever word omissions, is that by human perceptions, attractive things appear to work better.

Is this true?

Probably. Imagine you’re examining a new product. You likely believe that if the developers paid great attention to detail on its surface appearance (or on the user interface, or UI) — taking time to create something beautiful — they must have paid as much attention to detail on the inside (the structure or code). The logical conclusion: this a high-quality product.

And, you probably have high confidence that products that look well made and carefully organized will work properly. It’s human nature to arrive at these conclusions.

Norman’s investigations found that people’s behavior changes were even influenced beyond just positive assumptions about product quality. When people perceive an application or device as attractive they are more open to exploring and experimenting with the interaction, and more tolerant of any issues that may arise.

In essence, Norman suggested that aesthetics matter in the design of man-made artifacts — not because people love attractive things, but because aesthetics influence both our perceptions of how well products work and how tolerant we are of their shortcomings.

That’s a major reason product development teams should spend more time and attention on achieving an attractive UI and an appealing user experience. Making the user experience positive and engaging via elegant UI design increases exponentially the potential that your app or product (or website or touchscreen kiosk etc.) will be a hit.

Gorgeous UXs Make for More Successful Products

Attractive user experiences (UX) make people more open to taking the time to figure out how to use a new product, say a touchscreen app or innovative device they haven’t seen before. And the inverse is also true: when an application or device is widely regarded as unattractive, people perceive it as more broken than it really is, and have less patience to get it to work properly.

This is an important message to developers and designers: making the extra effort to enhance the user experience and polish the UI so the product appears most attractive and easy to use will make your product more successful.

What Makes an Interface or UX Attractive?

The aesthetics of the user experience is complicated and difficult to explain succinctly, but I’ll give it my best shot.

Beauty, attractiveness, aesthetics — whatever we call it — is not just about the graphic design, the audio design, the animation design, the information architecture or any one aspect of an interface.

It’s about the user experience in a holistic sense: how coherent it is; how well suited it is to the content or activity; how appropriate it is for the user group; how easily it fits into the flow of work or play; and yes, whether it pleases a person by tweaking their senses in a way that they consider positive.

In other words, it’s about good design.

Our visual sense dominates our conscious thinking, which leads us to assume that attractiveness is simply a visual attribute. But it’s actually multisensory and multidimensional. Attractiveness in a user experience starts at user stories and ends at the pixel level. A design is neither a group of discrete, disconnected pieces nor just the skin. A design is more like an organism or a puzzle with many interconnected parts.

That’s why the most successful products and interactive experiences feature cohesive designs that maintain the integrity of all of the individual design elements. A good design — an attractive design — has nothing superfluous; every element is there to serve a purpose.

So when developing a product, spend the time to create an extraordinary user experience, based on the design that your UX team provides. Remember, design is a gestalt. All parts contribute to the whole and the whole is perceived as more than the sum of its parts.

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