Attractive Things Work Better
Do good-looking products work better? Donald Norman says yes in his book Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things.
After I finished Jacob Nielsen’s Prioritizing Web Usability, I decided to also read the latest book by his colleague and co-founder of Nielsen Normal Group, Donald Norman. Emotional Design is based on the latest findings of cognitive science and tries to explain how design impacts us on an emotional level.
Does aesthetics matter?
Dr. Norman says:
“The surprise is that we now have evidence that aesthetically pleasing objects enable you to work better. […] Products and systems that make you feel good are easier to deal with and produce more harmonious results. […] Attractive things make people feel good, which in turns makes them think more creatively.”
How does that make something easier to use?
“Simple, by making it easier for people to find solutions to the problems they encounter. With most products, if the first thing you try fails to produce the desired result, the most natural response is to try again, only with more effort.”
What follows next is a curious observation of how the user’s mental state affects his/her experience with a product (I’ll limit the discussion to software products):
“In today’s world of computer-controlled products, doing the same operation over again is very unlikely to yield better results. The correct response is to look for alternative solutions. The tendency to repeat the same operation over again is especially likely for those who are anxious or tense. This state of negative affect leads people to focus upon the problematic details, and if this strategy fails to provide a solution, they get even more tense, more anxious, and increase their concentration upon those troublesome details.
Contrast this behavior with those who are in a positive emotional state, but encountering the same problem. These people are apt to look around for alternative approaches, which is very likely to lead to a satisfying end.”
So what’s the difference between how irritated and happy users react to a piece of clumsy software?
“Afterward, the tense and anxious people will complain about the difficulties whereas the relaxed, happy ones will probably not even remember them. In other words, happy people are more effective in finding alternative solutions and, as a result, are tolerant of minor difficulties.”
Interesting. Somehow, I never thought how hitting a snag leads to a spiral of escalation and causes the user to develop “tunnel vision” of the failing task!
People value feeling more than information
“Why aesthetics? Because it’s the language of feeling, and, in a society that’s information-rich and time-poor, people value feeling more than information.
[…] It’s design, not strategy, that ignites passion in people.”
People love eye candy—that’s just the way they are wired. A beautiful, elegant design puts people at ease and helps get on with the tasks.
Pay attention to aesthetics. It matters more than you may think.