The aesthetic usability effect is where a user will perceive an attractive product as easier to use than an ugly one. It doesn’t actually matter if they are easier to use or not they are perceived as such so users will make subconscious concessions and overlook many difficulties. The seminal work on this principle is “Apparent usability vs. inherent usability: experimental analysis on the determinants of the apparent usability”. This is available for ACM members to download from the ACM Portal (If anyone knows of a freely available source for this paper please share it in the comments!). The conclusion from their abstract nicely sums things up though:
These results show that the apparent usability is less correlated with the inherent usability compared to the apparent beauty… This suggests that the user may be strongly affected by the aesthetic aspect of the interface even when they try to evaluate the interface in its functional aspects and it is suggested that the interface designers should strive not only to improve the inherent usability but also brush up the apparent usability or the aesthetic aspect of the interface.
The aesthetics of a product have far reaching consequences. The desire to posses attractive items is an innate part of the human condition and we should use this to our advantage. All other things being equal, when comparing two products:
- The attractive product will be perceived as easier to use. Ease of use is often a criteria in purchase decisions – easy to use products require less training and support. So by improving the attractiveness it increases the perceived ease of use – improving the chances of making a sale
- Users will be more likely to develop positive feelings towards the attractive product. This can lead to:
- Positive reviews – leading to more sales
- They’ll tell their friends – resulting in more sales leads
- They’ll tolerate faults more – reducing support calls
- The attractive product will be perceived as of higher quality
- And, perhaps most importantly; customers may overlook feature deficiencies so they get to use the more attractive product
Spending time and money on the outward appearance of your product makes a lot of sense and that it can more than pay for itself in increased sales. So, if users are complaining that your product isn’t user friendly it might not be a problem with the interface mechanics – it might be their way of saying that it isn’t pretty enough!