Understanding HCI


Aesthetics is the study of beauty in all forms and expressions. Beauty is represented through material, form, color, arrangement and/or signal.

Aesthetic appeal is largely a subjective judgment that is not rooted in any preconceived notion of purpose. Beauty is largely very personal and also very cultural.

Users’ perceptions of interface aesthetics are very closely related to the apparent usability of that interface. This increases the likelihood that aesthetics may considerably affect the acceptability of the system, website, or multimedia product.

Aesthetics is not just about the artistic merit of web buttons or other visual effects, but about how people respond to these elements.

It's not necessary that each interface be a visual work of art, but it's important that it not be ugly. There are a number of simple principles of graphical design that can easily be learned, the most basic of which was coined by artist and science fiction writer William Rotsler: "Never do anything that looks to someone else like a mistake."


An interface example can be seen in the placement of buttons -- imagine five buttons, each with five different labels that are almost the same size. Each button is almost but not exactly the same size. As a result, though the author has placed much care into his layout, it looks carelessly done. A solution would be to have the buttons exactly the same size.


Another area of aesthetics to consider is the temporal dimension. Users don't like using programs that feel sluggish or slow.

“[Users] make their credibility-based decisions about the people or organization behind the site based upon the site's overall visual appeal.”
—Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab, 2002

“[Users] said they were more likely to believe Web sites that looked professionally designed.”
—Stanford Web Credibility Study, 2002

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”
—Steve Jobs, 2003

“We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone.”
—Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility, 2002

“If a site is perfectly usable but it lacks an elegant and appropriate design style, it will fail.”
—Curt Cloninger, 2001

Further Reading