Design paper cuts are frustrating to me, because I feel like they compound to create an overall poor user experience. However, has there been any research behind how these oversights from a visual level affect a user's perception of an experience?

Personally, whenever I see something like heavy gradient banding anywhere these days, it gives me the feeling that the design is low-quality or heavily-compressed (even when it is not). Therefore, my perception of the quality of the experience is lessened.

Any formal insight into how these sort of things add up in a user's mind? To be clear, I am not necessarily looking for discussions about whether or not UX is improved by good visual design. I am more interested in any analysis that suggests how minor design mistakes can add up to create a perceived bad experience, even if the user might not be able to explicitly determine what is "bad."

  • One place to start might be Norman's book on Emotional Design, which touches on some of these issues from an aesthetic perspective. – Alex Feinman Jul 9 '12 at 14:13
  • Not sure I'm seeing an actual question here? Does gradient banding have a negative effect on the user? Negative in what way? It seems like more of a 'I don't like bad gradients, do you all agree' statement than an actual answerable question. – JonW Jul 9 '12 at 14:14
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    I think the question is pretty clear: "Do tiny design flaws ('design paper cuts') impact user experience? Please cite research supporting your answer." – Alex Feinman Jul 9 '12 at 14:18
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    I tried to make the point (as I read it) a bit more clear; I know an HCI course of mine went over how an app differing only in visual appeal had different perceived usability. Also, there's an interesting article here: The Impact of Design and Aesthetics on Usability, Credibility, and Learning in an Online Environment – Ben Brocka Jul 9 '12 at 14:26
  • Wow interesting read. That looks answer-worthy to me. :) – user10242 Jul 9 '12 at 14:31

There is research, but not much on specific aesthetic quibbles. Evidence does suggests that aesthetics are relevant - that users will perceive similar interfaces with differing visual designs differently. However, I've never read a paper that identifies which kinds of visual degradation are most harmful.

On the importance of aesthetics, some papers to read include:

  • The effect of aesthetics on web credibility - Farah Alsudani, Matthew Casey (Free link)
  • Interaction, usability and aesthetics: what influences users' preferences? - Antonella De Angeli, Alistair Sutcliffe, Jan Hartmann (Free link)
  • Attractive Phones Don’t Have To Work Better: Independent Effects of Attractiveness, Effectiveness, and Efficiency on Perceived Usability - Jeffrey M. Quinn, Tuan Q. Tran (Free link)
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  • "Evidence suggests..." Do you have anything specific you can cite here? – JonW Jul 9 '12 at 14:49
  • Sure - I've added some papers which might help the OP. Unfortunately, searching the ACM library didn't seem to reveal anything on the perception of visual bugs. – Jimmy Breck-McKye Jul 9 '12 at 14:59
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    I would love to see some articles that aren't locked behind pay-to-read barriers. – mawcsco Jul 9 '12 at 16:16
  • @mawcsco - so would I, but it's very hard to find academic publications outside of paid-for-journals. But I will look around and add any free links if I spot them. – Jimmy Breck-McKye Jul 9 '12 at 16:47
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    @mawcsco - I've found some free links to the articles I cite, and I've included hyperlinks in the post. Hope that solves your paywall woes! – Jimmy Breck-McKye Jul 9 '12 at 16:50

Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab published some years ago a list of 10 factors that affect the credibility of a web site, and one of them is related to visual design.

We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like IBM.com. The visual design should match the site's purpose.

From Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility

This thesis is based on the research that this Lab has done about web credibility:

  • B.J. Fogg & Shawn Tseng. 1999. The Elements of Computer Credibility. Proceedings of ACM CHI 99 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, v.1, pp. 80-87. New York: ACM Press.
  • B.J. Fogg, Jonathan Marshall, Othman Laraki, Alex Osipovich, Chris Varma, Nicholas Fang, Jyoti Paul, Akshay Rangnekar, John Shon, Preeti Swani, & Marissa Treinen. 2000. Elements that Affect Web Credibility: Early Results from a Self-Report Study. Proceedings of ACM CHI 2000 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, v.2, New York: ACM Press.
  • B.J. Fogg, Jonathan Marshall, Othman Laraki, Alex Osipovich, Chris Varma, Nicholas Fang, Jyoti Paul, Akshay Rangnekar, John Shon, Preeti Swani, & Marissa Treinen. 2001. What Makes A Web Site Credible? A Report on a Large Quantitative Study. Proceedings of ACM CHI 2001 Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, v. 1, 61-68. New York: ACM Press.
  • B.J. Fogg, Tami Kameda, John Boyd, Jonathan Marshall, Ramit Sethi, & Mike Sockol. 2002. Stanford-Makovsy Web Credibility Study 2002: Investigating What Makes Web Sites Credible Today.
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