The Role of Aesthetics in the Interface

by Luke Wroblewski April 8, 2004

Some interesting perspectives on aesthetics and interface design have recently been published.

We now have evidence that aesthetically pleasing objects enable you to work better.” –Donald Norman, Emotional Design

First, Didier P. Hilhorst takes the approach that “design comes first, usability second”. A similar perspective is offered by Donald Norman in Emotional Design: “the emotional side of design may be more critical to a product’s success than its practical elements”. A rebuttal can be found in Sara Horton’s Beauty is Only Screen Deep:

“It used to be that we thought we needed to pretty up the web so people would use it. I can now see that the beauty of the web lies in its function, not its form, and I would rather that my sites attract attention because they are widely useful and usable than because they are pretty.”

Didier also tackles the ageless form vs. function debate by stating “form does not indispensably follow function, rather form inherently influences function”. In other words, the form determines how an object will be used. At an earlier stage of design, however, the form needs to be considered in terms of how the object “can” be used. The form can’t interfere with the basic usefulness and usability of the product, but it can encourage advanced uses and emotional connections. It also has enormous potential to influence perceived usefulness, usability, and enjoyment.

Another interesting perspective comes from Oracle’s Uday Gajendar in The Aesthetic Imperative: Four Perspectives on Aesthetics to Impact the User Experience.

“IA professionals and their UX peers should be concerned with aesthetics as our environment of experience becomes rapidly shaped by digital, networked, multifunctional artifacts that influence our lifestyles and perceptions. Humanizing technological expression must be a critical goal and duty of IA/UX peers, as part of an overall effort to make life enjoyable and meaningful in everyday experience. To combat the “ugliness” of dehumanizing, alienating artifacts that deprive humans of their ideational, cultural, and personal aspirations should be the driving motive for those who wish to create beauty in products and services.”