The Aesthetic Usability Effect

The aesthetic usability effect is where a user perceives an attractive product as easier to use as opposed to a less attractive one. This is based purely on the viewers subconscious concessions and has no relevance to whether the product is actually more effective (Towers, 2010). Aesthetic usability is an effect, which plays a significant role in the design of a product, as it “evokes feelings of affection, loyalty and patience”(Lidwell, Holden, Butler, 2003, pp 18). By making the design visually engaging, the audience ignores the difficulties accompanying the product. For example, say that there are two web sites selling the same thing, both with identical technical difficulties. One of the web designs is more aesthetically usable, offering its audience a page filled with colours, images and engaging font sizes. The other page, however, employs the same sized font for all the text and has a simple white background with no images. Whilst they both offer the same information and technical problems, the audience will be more tolerant of the aesthetically pleasing web design as it is engaging and entertaining, and the problems are less obvious to the audience as they foster a positive attitude towards the design.

Aesthetic design is “the thing that defines and differentiates a product” (Boulton, 2005). The Nokia phone company was the first to realize the importance of this effect (Lidwell, Holden, Butler, 2003, pp 19). The phone itself requires a lot of maintenance, however by making the product visually appealing the user tolerates this. Another study used two functionally identical phones, one appealing the other not. They were given to 60 adolescents who then had to say which they would rather use. The results showed that participants using the highly appealing phone rated their appliance as being more usable than those participants using the less attractive model. Therefore, the visual appearance of the phone had a positive effect on performance.


Examples of Aesthetic Usability

When considering the aesthetic usability effect, one thinks about the modern day designs which incorporate this visual factor. The following will briefly explain the way in which three modern day products use this aesthetic effect to appeal to their audience’s. The Apple Mac was introduced in 1984, and has been the leading brand for all computers. This is not because it offers better equipment or faster loading time. The computer provides almost identical equipment to that of a PC, however double the price. The main difference between a mac and any other computer is its aesthetic usability. The modern day mac offers its audience a slim design, with a wide screen and a 3 dimensional background. The screen savers are often moving and visually entertaining. Providing its audience with colourful screen icons and a small key board, the mac computers engage their consumers purely because of their aesthetic appeal.


Another apple product which also  employs the aesthetic effect is the iPod. The iPod is the top portable music playing device, offering its audience with a thin, small design. It has only one button, and comes in many different colours. The buyer can also get their names engraved on the back. The device, however, plays music just like any other mp3. It is also less durable and highly temperamental, commonly coming with only one year expectancy. Once again, the visual appeal of the device makes it highly favourable for consumers rather than those devices which are ‘ugly’.



The final contemporary design which manipulates the aesthetic effect is cars. There are many designs and brands of cars, each one becoming more visually appealing throughout the years. Fundamentally, all cars have the same function; to transport. However, car companies have incorporated the aesthetic effect to manipulate consumers into buying their products. The shinier the design the higher the appeal with consumers being more willing to spend the extra dollars just for the high aesthetic appeal.


Engkvist, I.(Ed), (2010) Applied Ergonomics : Volume 41, Issue

Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003). AestheticUsability Effect : In Universal Principles of Design. Massachusetts: Rockport.

Ashley Towers (2010, March 30) Aesthetic Usability Effect (Web Log Post) Retrieved from

Boulton M. (2005, March 6) The Personal Disquiet of Mark Boulton; Aesthetic Usability Effect (Web Log Post) Retrieved from

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