RAA5: Do Aesthetics matter or is it all about Usability?

Reference: Tractinsky, N. Aesthetics and apparent usability: empirically assessing cultural and methodological issues. In Proc. CHI’ 2002, ACM Press (1997) 115-122.

Objectives:   In the past few years researchers of HCI have given much attention to usability while completely ignoring aesthetics. Do aesthetics play a role in users’ acceptance of a computer system or does it depend entirely on usability? Do researchers ignore aesthetics because they believe that it is culturally dependent or does it cross cultural boundaries? A research project conducted by Kurosu and Kashimura (1995, cited by Tractinsky, 1997) on university students in Japan shows a strong correlation between aesthetics and the apparent usability of an interface. In this paper the Tractinsky (2007) investigate whether these results are solely based on Japanese or whether they extend to other cultures.

Methods: Three experiments were conducted in Israel to test if the results would show some cultural variation.

Experiment 1: One hundred and four engineering students were used to evaluate 26 layouts of an ATM machine. Using an overhead screen projector, each layout was presented for approximately 20 seconds and subjects rated each one on its beauty and perceived usability.

Experiment 2: A different group of 81 first year engineering students were used to evaluate the 26 ATM machine layouts. This experiment contained two conditions, each containing two rounds. In one condition, the participants evaluated all 26 layouts for aesthetics in the first round, and apparent usability in the second round. In the next condition the order of evaluation was reversed.

 Experiment 3: In this experiment participants completed the evaluation using a personal computer.

Main Findings:  All three experiments were able to produce the similar results, which was analogous to those discovered by Kurosu and Kashimura (1995, cited by Tractinsky, 1997) in their research in Japan.

Analysis:  Even though Israelis are not as sensitive to visual appearance as Japanese, the researchers found that they valued the aesthetical appearance of the interface just the same. This suggests that users’ sensitivity to the visual appearance of an interface may not just be limited to culture. Research has shown that users’ perceived ease of use of an interface makes them more acceptable of that system. I believe that much is lost when researchers focus solely on system usability while completely ignoring the aesthetical issues.


One response to “RAA5: Do Aesthetics matter or is it all about Usability?

  1. Yes, aesthetics do matter. See the book Emotional Design (Norman). The argument is that if aesthetics create a positive mood, cognitive processing is improved. With better cognitive processing, perceived usability increases.

    Good RAA. Your points on Bb.

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