Usability and Beauty

Don Norman is working on a new book, “Emotion & Design” which will explore the roles that beauty and emotional impact play in the usability of designs. His site has a number of essays related to this topic, including Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better. One of the interesting points raised in the essay is that we use our emotions to make good/bad or safe/dangerous evaluations of the world, while we use cognition to interpret and make sense of the world. In stressful situations, the emotional aspect of the design can improve its usability. In short, “Attractive things work better.”

Given the horrible usability of many products, it is easy and understandable for design professionals to be stuck on the basic plain-and-simple functionality and ignore the beauty aspect. Norman emphasizes that the usability is still important–this is not just about prettiness:

There are many designers, many design schools, who cannot distinguish prettiness from usefulness…. True beauty in a product has to be more than skin deep, more than a façade. To be truly beautiful, wondrous, and pleasurable, the product has to fulfill a useful function, work well, and be usable and understandable.

May we have more products that are beautiful to look at and pleasurable to use.