Aesthetic-Usability Effect

“If a work of art is rich and vital and complete, those who have artistic instincts will see its beauty, and those to whom ethics appeal more strongly than aesthetics will see its moral lesson.” – Oscar Wilde


“Aesthetic-Usability Effect” is an article written by W. Lidwell, K. Holden and J. Butler and its purpose is to briefly describe “a phenomenon in which people perceive more-aesthetic designs as easier to use than less-aesthetic designs- whether they are or not.” The article goes on to talk about how aesthetically pleasing designs with poor design functionality is far more popular then “ugly” designs with great design functionality- as “prettier” designs are deemed easier to use.


During a usability test, a customer ran in to a lot of issues while trying to navigate the FitBit site. After many false-starts the customer was able to make her order, but still rated the website’s usability as high. “It’s the colours they used. Looks like the ocean, it’s calm. Very good photographs.” (“The Aesthetic-Usability Effect,” 2017) The calming aesthetic of the site helped to hide the flaws in its functionality.


“Colour impacts meaning and evokes emotions.” (Sherin, 2011) As experienced in the above case study, while the website was ineffective the colour of the site impacted the consumer, encouraging her to purchase regardless of the usability. This is because colour, along with other design elements has been scientifically proven to impact both consciously and subconsciously. With regards to web-design, using aesthetics keeps users engaged on your site for longer and hence increases your chances of them purchasing your products. By using graphics and design elements that appeal to the audience of your site, you distract them from price tags, tedious forms etc. (“The Aesthetic Usability Effect- It’s Design Magic!” 2016)


The Aesthetic-Usability Effect isn’t just used for websites however; it also plays into products and people. In 2010 a study was conducted with two of the same phones, 1 aesthetically pleasing and 1 not. Participants were set a list of tasks they had to complete and the data showed that the participants with the aesthetically pleasing phone took longer. Despite this, they still preferred the “prettier” phone as “the increased task completion time provided support for the ‘prolongation of joyful experiences’”. (Sauer & Sonderegger, 2010)


Examples of Products that use the Aesthetic-Usability Effect

High End vs Makeup Dupes


As a makeup artist I spend a lot of my time with cosmetics ranging from over $100 to under $10. Last year one of the most talked about palettes within the beauty world was the Anastasia Beverly Hills (ABH) “Modern Renaissance” palette ($42). The palette consists of 14 shades with 3 different finishes (matte, metallic and satin). (“Anastasia Beverly Hills Modern Renaissance Eye Shadow Palette,” 2017) With any popular high-end palette, many drugstores release “dupes” for people, to save money for a similar look. A palette that I found to be similar for a lesser price is Coastal Scents “26 Colour Blush Palette” for $16.10. (“Anastasia Beverly Hills modern Renaissance Dupes,” 2016) Now while the Coastal Scents palette is cheaper and has more eye shadows I am still inclined to purchase the ABH palette for a few reasons; it contains a mirror, it comes with a brush and I’ll be honest it’ll look prettier in Instagram posts when I post looks I’ve created to boost my business. So while the Coastal Scents palette is functionally better, the ABH palette’s aesthetics is what wins me over.


Personal Planners


Personal planners have been a growing trend recently with the trend of bullet-journaling sweeping Pinterest. When looking online there are 1000s of different personal planners ranging in price, why, they all do the same thing? Take for instance this “Day-Timer Avalon Simulated Leather Starter Set, 5 ½ x 8 ½, black” from Target ($32.49) and the “Leather Personal Zip Planner Large: Lovely” form kikki k. ($89.99) Both include a case, pockets, pen holders, the ability to refill them and the ability to customise depending on your needs. Ignoring that one is made from real leather and the other faux leather and despite the price, the kikki k. planner to me is far more desirable, as it uses rose-gold finishes (which is a far more luxurious metal than the silver on the Target planner) (“Why Everybody and your Mom is Obsessed with Rose Gold,” 2016) Also despite functionality kikki k.’s paper designs are far more delicate and intricate then the stock-standard design of Target’s. Finally, kikki k also has the advantage over Target as they use photos and videos of their planners to demonstrate how their planners can be customisable for you. The aesthetics of the kikki k. planner makes me want to use it more than the Target planner.


High heels

high heel.jpg

Probably one of the biggest examples of aesthetics over functionality can be seen in the wearing of high heels. The people who wear them (including myself) know it is not the most comfortable or supportive option for our feet, but damn do they look good. As explained in the beginning article “Aesthetic-Usability Design,” we are more likely to by high heels then say a pair of flats because overall they look more pleasing to the eye, so why bother with comfort? Unfortunately shoes fall into the fashion industry, an industry dominated by aesthetics so of course high heels are far more sought after then a supportive pair of sneakers.





Anastasia Beverly Hills Modern Renaissance Eye Shadow Palette, (2017). Retrieved from

Anastasia Beverly Hills modern Renaissance Dupes, (2016). Retrieved from

Why Everybody and your Mom is Obsessed with Rose Gold, (2016). Retrieved from

Leather Personal Zip Planner Large: Lovely, (2017). Retrieved from

Day-Timer Avalon Simulated Leather Starter Set, 5 ½ x 8 ½, black, (2017). Retrieved from

Sherin, A. (2011). Design elements, color fundamentals : A graphic style manual for understanding how color impacts design. Beverly, Mass.: Rockport.

Sauer, J. (2011). The influence of product aesthetics and user state in usability testing. Behaviour & Information Technology, 30(6), 787-787.

The Aesthetic-Useability Effect, (2017). Retrieved from

The Aesthetic Usability Effect- It’s Design Magic!, (2016). Retrieved from

Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003). Aesthetic-Usability Effect. In Universal Principles of Design (pp. 18-19). Massachusets: Rockport.


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