I'm curious about the usability of such interfaces for complex tasks, repetitive tasks. Are there any studies that focus on this comparison?

Note: My question is not just about phone interfaces but also desktop/web interfaces.

For example:



  • the issue is less likely about matte vs. gloss as it is about how each is specifically implemented. Both are really style decisions and the implementation is the key.
    – DA01
    Dec 27, 2011 at 20:41

3 Answers 3


I think it's a matter of visual flair as long as it's handled properly.

The only usability issue I can think of would be if your gloss or lighting indicated an unnatural light source (eg bottom lit) or if the lighting failed to indicate affordance (eg the "pressed" state does not appear to be physically depressed). Both glossy and matte buttons/ect can indicate the standard variety of affordance states.

As far as actual UX it would only depend on how well it matches with your interface. Mixing glossy buttons with matte buttons or flat colors can make a striking contrast, usually not in a good way.

Check out this example from Fark.com (only logged in users see the glossy buttons): enter image description here

The supergloss "smart" and "funny" buttons really don't match with the flat colors of the rest of the interface.

Also make sure the gloss/matte/ect style matches your Design Persona. Is your design fancy, slick, so shiny you want to lick it? Does your audience appreciate that? Gloss is probably okay if so.

If your design is practical, simple, efficient, gloss is probably a bad idea. For instance I've never seen many programming IDEs or editors that used super glossy and fancy buttons and such. Technical people tend to hate "fancy" interfaces; most programmers and computer scientists I know dislike interfaces like that; many prefer the plain windows 95 style "classic" theme to the new Windows 7 glass theme or OS X's brushed steel styles.

  • 1
    In my opinion the shinier interfaces tend to have many bright points or sharp colors which may make scanning the interface harder. Also I figured this might be a little strenuous to the eyes. Is this true? Out of curiosity why do scientists and technical people hate fancy interfaces? Does fancy here mean shiny? I believe both te examples you mentioned (mac and win 7) have shiny interfaces. While win 95 has a very plain, matte interface. Thank you for replying! :)
    – Viraj
    Dec 27, 2011 at 21:49
  • 1
    I certainly think a shiny interface can be straining to the eyes; shiny often means a bright white glare on another color of background, which is pretty clashy. As for the fancy interfaces, a lot of people (fallaciously) equate good looks with poorer performance, both for the machine (more resources used) and user (fancy interface = dumbed down). It's a psychological bias, I don't have any references directly to that effect however.
    – Ben Brocka
    Dec 27, 2011 at 22:14
  • I forgot to mention scanning; high contrast can certainly harm scanning if too many items conflict for attention. That's an issue I'm sure there's research on, tommorrow I'll see what I can dig up on attention.
    – Ben Brocka
    Dec 27, 2011 at 22:52

Your question could actually be quite broad - 'How far do aesthetics affect the way a UI is utilised'.

You've chosen to take two specific past trends in UI design and ask whether the either makes a difference, but I think this is un-necessarily restricting answers. There are a multitude of different aesthetic styles that can be applied to UI widgets.

The aesthetic style of a UI affects the way an interface is received by a user.

Contrast, consistency and hierarchy

Aesthetics matter in a practical sense, because they provide cues about the importance of elements in relation to the rest of the design.

  • A particular aesthetic style can be chosen to either provide more or less emphasis in relation to a specific widget or input element.
  • By using contrasting aesthetic styles in one design (e.g. matt vs. shiny), more emphasis could be provided for specific elements which break previously defined patterns of consistency.
  • If one aesthetic style (e.g. matt or shiny) is used consistently, the way the style sits with other design elements will help define the visual hierarchy that's interpreted by the user while using the UI.

Taste, style and identity

Aesthetics matter in an emotional sense, because they provide cues about who the UI product is intended for, and how this target user fits into the wider world.

  • As well as practical goals, users also have emotional goals and aspirations. They have a personal taste which has been built up through a complex series of interactions with the world throughout their lifetime.
  • All of these different associations and connotations will come into play while using your application's UI.
  • For many users, various prejudices will apply in relation to overly glossy interfaces - partly because this style quickly became overused over the last decade.
  • In terms of trends and tastes, brash and shiny, was replaced by subtle and matt (see Apple's standard UI elements as an example).
  • This is a good answer but it would be even better with references. For instance, what research has determined that the aesthetic style of a UI affects the way the interface is received?
    – Rahul
    Jan 22, 2012 at 2:21
  • @Rahul - that's an interesting question. I formed the above view through experience, if I find any examples of relevant research I'll add them here. Jan 22, 2012 at 10:35
  • All this is fine but my question was about repetitive tasks... :(
    – Viraj
    Feb 16, 2012 at 23:43

Apple recommend in their interface guide for iOs that for productivity apps that is used on a regular basis you should use a minimalistic and clean design in order to let the user focus on the tasks while designing a game you should create a more immerse experience. So you could see it as a scale.

Apple do this with Mail vs their Friend finder app for example.

It is also a branding issue. What should your design communicate to the user? Is your brand funny or serious? Is your brand personal or sporty etc. Let the brands personality guide your design descisions.

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