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Q1: Summary and critical reading of: AESTHETIC USABILITY EFFECT

The argument in this ‘aesthetics and usability’ discussion is that usability and how things look and how they are presented are inherently linked that people will ultimately learn to use the product better if it looks nice. It is worth noting that the piece says that aesthetics make people perceive things as easier to use, it doesn’t actually mean they are, but however as Mark Boulton (2006) writes:

Good usability is inherent in good design because people think well designed things work better, whether they do or not. Focus on good design and you will make the product more usable by default, you will also give it a competitive edge. The MD will thank you… eventually! (Mark Boulton 2006)

As far as the value of aesthetics goes, Boulton makes it a clear point that people will perceive something as easy to use if it is presented well and used the examples of two cars (the Skoda and Audi) as an example of how aesthetics sell better too.  This love of aesthetics can be applied to web services as well, to quote Balanced Web design chapter 4:

“When people required beautiful and pleasing websites, the aesthetic value of these sites became important and noticeable.” (D. Lawrence & S Tavakol 2007)

But still it’s well known that aesthetics matter in the world of advertising. The more pressing issue Boulton presents is the last line about how people would perceive things with nicer aesthetics as more usable and therefore anything with good aesthetics would be usable by default.

But then, many nice looking websites end up being hard to use. As was written in a piece I found on webcredible:

A product’s design can ensure the initial attraction but only usability and aesthetics working in combination will ensure consumers will keep using it. (Trenton Moss 2012)

The article itself suggested that aesthetics and usability go hand in hand but are not the same.

In chapter 4 (page 83) of Usability in practiseUser design at Apple Computer’  there is a passage that suggests that communication between users is still the best thing for usability and suggests Apple’s success is based on it.

“- In short, Apple’s ‘user-centred’ attitude made it easy to establish a usability program.” (Gomoll and Wong 1994 paraphrased)

Aesthetics matter, good looking products and services help a great deal in enticing people to buy them both because they look so nice and because it helps create the illusion of usability. But still no amount of good looks can compare to good old fashioned communication.

Q2: Three examples of aesthetic usability effect:

Example 1:

As mentioned before the Xbox 360’s marketing put a lot of effort into emphasizing looks and aesthetics, one thing worth noting is that while it talks about being ‘next generation’ a lot of the things featured in their marketing (with the exception of the wireless controller which since became standard for all consoles) are features that already existed, in some form or another, prior to this machine’s creation. The mention of the ‘worldwide community’ in particular, this feature already existed on Microsoft’s original Xbox and games haven’t changed much apart from looking better.

The white colors felt more casual to a primary audience, whereas the competitors, the Nintendo Wii and the PS3, aimed to different markets. The PS3 was big and large and heavy looking and was clearly aimed at a more ‘hardcore’ audience with its sleek black presentation and sheer size, the marketing and presentation was a lot more intense and aggressive whereas the calming white and green of the Xbox 360 seemed to resonate better with a more casual audience. The controllers looked a lot more simple with color co-ordinated buttons and in general it just felt like an easier machine to work with.

Both consoles were essentially the same, they worked the same and had most of the same games but it seems like it all came down to presentation. The Xbox 360 was white and everything about it appeared a lot more simple and easier to understand just thanks to its aesthetics so even though the PS3 was actually the more powerful system, the Xbox 360 sold better to a much broader audience. Using white instead of black and emphasising the features and not the technical details helped make new audiences feel more inclined to go for the Xbox over the PS3.

Example 2:

The iphone. Originally a cutting edge innovator, they are now the standard by which all phones are judged and like before, despite them being an inherently complicated machine, the iphone was marketed and presented with utter simplicity.

The minimal amount of text on the ad and the big colorful visual aides on the touch screen and the way everything is neatly organized helps keep people on track and it means that usually every person in the world knows how to manage them. Although it is true that the iphone’s simplicity is partly due to its ingenious design, it is worth noting that the presence of the Apple Genius bars all over major cities imply that not everyone can figure it out.

Nevertheless, this is an example of where the aesthetic design (it was clearly made to be sleek and stylish) actually directly ads to the simplicity and ease of use because a lack of clutter or word heavy data means that it is easier for a person to pick it up and use it.

Example 3:

In essence all cars are the same, at least in terms of function. You use a car to drive from point A to point B and all points in between. Some cars are made for more specific functions like four wheel drives but ultimatley what it all comes down to is cars are for driving.

This is where the aesthetic design is a huge part of how people purchase and use cars, almost every advertisement showcases just how the car looks over how it functions. There are exceptions to this rule but for the most part style and sleek are the main selling points of all cars and part of the reason why people attribute value to them.

While it is true that function and form do ultimatley matter to an audience, often the most expensive cars are just the ones that look very nice. While these cars may have better speed and handle more smoothly and have lots of little features, much of that is largely irrelevant in a suburban environment. It is a great example of aesthetics having value over usability, because how a car looks for the most part seems to matter more than the basic function it serves.

 

References:

Boulton Mark : Aesthetic usability effect (March 6, 2005) Retrieved May 5 2012 from:http://www.markboulton.co.uk/journal/comments/aesthetic-usability-effect

Gomoll, Tom and Wong, Irene (1994)Usability in Practise: Chapter 4 User-aided design at Apple Computer. Oval Road, London: ACADEMIC PRESS LIMITED.

Lawrence Dave and Tavakol Soheyla (2007) Balanced Web Design Chapter 4: Aesthetics and websites. London UK: SPRINGER VERLAG LONDON LIMITED.

“Apparent usability vs. Inherent usability: Experimental analysis of the detriments of apparent usability.”

By Masaaki Kurosu and Kaori Kashimura Chi 95 Conference companion 1995 page 292-293

Moss Trenton: Web aesthetics, what has it got to do with usability? Retrieved May 5 from:http://www.webcredible.co.uk/user-friendly-resources/web-usability/aesthetics-usability.shtml

Images:

In Xbox360 [Digital image] Retrieved (May 6 2011) from:http://www.fdbnetwork.com/xBox360

In iphones [Digital image} Retrieved (May 6 2011) from:http://romalmehta89.blogspot.com.au/2010_05_01_archive.html

In Cars [Digital image] retrieved 6 May 2011 from:http://carrentalhiregoldcoast.com.au/car-rental-gold-coast-cool-tips-for-renting-cars/

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