There are usability practitioners who completely dismiss the importance of aesthetics, often citing unattractive but popular websites such as Craigslist.
However, aesthetics do have a function. Attractive things work better. Studies show that emotions play an important role in the users’ experience. If a website has a pleasant visual design, users are more relaxed, tend to find the website more credible and easier to use. A positive first impression — usually based on looks rather than interaction — determines the value of the website on the user’s behalf.
Aesthetics also tell a good many about your brand, product or service. They show that you care.
In defense of aesthetics:
- Human centered design expert Don Norman goes into details about the importance of aesthetics and its function to enhance usability in Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better. His book, Emotion design is devoted to the matter.
- A study on the role of aesthetics concludes that, though attractive things may not score higher in performance, people perceive attractive things as more usable - Do “Attractive Things Work Better”? An Exploration of Search Tool Visualisations (pdf)
- Stanford University conducted a study with 2500+ participants on how people assess the credibility of a website. The findings prove the importance of visual design: “Nearly half of all consumers (or 46.1%) in the study assessed the credibility of sites based in part on the appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size and color schemes. (…) Beautiful graphic design will not salvage a poorly functioning Web site. Yet, the study shows a clear link between solid design and site credibility.” - from the Stanford Credibility Project
- The developers of the Macintosh user interface made serious efforts to create rounded rectangles, as they are much easier on the eye. - Realizations of Rounded Rectangles
- Stephen P. Anderson’s In defense of Eye Candy discusses the critical role of aesthetics and how our rational thinking is closely connected to how we feel.
- Web designer Dimitry Fadeyev argues how good design is a competitive advantage and that it possibly played a great role in certain huge successes in the internet industry (Facebook, Digg). In his words: “Good design at the front-end suggests that everything is in order at the back-end, whether or not that is the case.” - The Value of Good Design
- “Problems with visual design can turn users off so quickly that they never discover all the smart choices you made with navigation or interaction design.” says UX designer Jesse James Garrett.
- Joel Spolsky argues that “Usability is not everything. If usability engineers designed a nightclub, it would be clean, quiet, brightly lit, with lots of places to sit down, plenty of bartenders, menus written in 18-point sans-serif, and easy-to-find bathrooms. But nobody would be there. They would all be down the street at Coyote Ugly pouring beer on each other.”
- Max Steenbergen writes in Eye Candy vs. Bare-Bones in UI Design that “Eye candy distracts, whereas bare-bones fails to attract. […] If the application doesn’t have some kind of aesthetic value, it will not only fail to attract the user’s attention, it will also fail to hold the user’s attention.”
- “Who ever said that pleasure wasn’t functional?” said Charles Eames.