Editorial

IX.4 July 2002
Page: 4
Digital Citation

Use is beauty, beauty use


Authors:


You occasionally see complaints that adding usability
  makes interfaces ugly, or that proponents of usability ignore
  beauty.

 

I believe that part of this misunderstanding comes from
  our use of the word "invisible" to describe a
  desirable interface. But of course, we use
  "invisible" in a metaphorical way, to mean that the
  interface is not perceived as a separate artifact of a
  system. I’m sure another part of the misunderstanding comes
  from fights between graphics designers and usability
  proponents over whether usability or graphics design is more
  important to a product’s success.

 

Usability is about improving three things: doing your task
  faster, getting it right, and enjoying it more. So is a
  plain, unadorned user interface any different in usability
  from a graphically sophisticated one?

 

At first glance, more graphics are not going to make you
  faster, or more correct, but they may allow you to enjoy it
  more. But this in turn may have a positive feedback, and
  therefore make you work faster and/or more correctly. Or it
  may distract you, and slow you down or cause you to make
  mistakes. So it’s difficult to tell a priori how much
  aesthetics adds to usability (which is why we have to do user
  testing) and there has not been very much discussion on the
  topic.

 

In this issue Don Norman explores the tensions, perceived
  or real, between aesthetics and usability, and explores the
  different roles affect (roughly speaking, emotion) and
  cognition play in that tension. Could it be that
  beauty improves usability in some cases and decreases it in
  other cases? Read Don’s article to find out.

 

Steven Pemberton

  interactions@acm.org

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