I've read that beauty is subjective and I've read that it is objective (I tend to believe a mix of both depending on the context). However I've also read that scientists found that a person generally considered to be attractive or beautiful tends to also have facial features of average size compared to all humans. In similar terms I am trying to approach user interface design. I do NOT at all mean 'a good looking interface will have averaged size controls' as the scientific study I cited was just an example. But what I do mean is, there must be a set of properties or attributes that just make an interface good to look at.

I can look at an interface for a web application and immediately feel disgust or love (contrast for example an early 90s HTML Geocities site against the current Zendesk website, for example). There must be some set of properties or rules that could be defined that make an interface look good. I am trying to learn to design interfaces from scratch as well as take existing ones and make them look great. For example a recent design submitted to me by a team member had everything looking very disjointed and modular, and it looked like crap. I did my best to explain this and eventually they worked on it and made it look great, smooth and... connected? I don't know what terms or 'truths' I am looking for here.

So can anyone tell me, perhaps in a bulleted list with definitions of each term, what visual properties make a user interface pleasing to the eye? It may include color in relation to X (where X is, I have no idea!), or size of controls and elements in relation to available screen space, etc. These are just examples, I do not know what to expect as I do not study design theory, this is where you come in!

EDIT: An example answer in the form of something I can describe would be a plate of food. At a cafeteria if they just plop food down on a plate in random splats it would not be good to look at. At a gourmet restaurant they drizzle things, add parsley, give proper portion sizes and plate sizes to make it look really nice looking. What is the UI design form of parsley and drizzle? I'm serious!

closed as not constructive by JonW May 12 '12 at 18:29

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • This question should be closed. Not really a question, and if there is one here, it is incredibly subjective. – Charles Boyung Nov 16 '10 at 15:55
  • 1
    @CharlesBoyung I KNOW there is an answer to this, I just don't know what it is. Did you even read my details? if you have not studied design theory or have experience in this area then please move along, nothing to see here. – MetaGuru Nov 16 '10 at 15:58
  • @shogun - there is most definitely not an answer to this, at least not an answer that is based on facts. Anyone can give you answers that are based on opinions, but that is not what this site is for. – Charles Boyung Nov 16 '10 at 16:52
  • 3
    The question is fine. – DA01 Nov 16 '10 at 18:19
  • 1
    The meta debates about what is or isn't a valid question only clutter the place. Let the up/down vote tool and/or admins do the work. That's what they're here for. – DA01 Nov 16 '10 at 19:53

Good interface is like good architecture. There's no one formula, but general concepts that are shared with most design: grids, scale, proportion, focus, contrast, texture, flow, orientation, etc.

  • can you expand and describe more detail for each of these items, possibly giving examples too? these general concepts are exactly what I am looking for, for the win! – MetaGuru Nov 16 '10 at 21:32
  • It's visual design theory. I'd suggest grabbing some books on the subject. – DA01 Nov 19 '10 at 0:08

I would start by reading The Universal Principles of Design a indispensable book in my opinion.

There is also some science to what we find pleasing but there is probably plenty of work to be done in that field. Check out Keith Langs video The Science of Aesthetics.

  • wow this is deeper than I thought, thanks for pointing me to the resources, hopefully someone can come along and spell out some basic principles for me on here as well – MetaGuru Nov 16 '10 at 16:03

A List Apart also published an article on this subject


I can't remember reading another article on this subject, but I can't find it atm. Will update my answer when I remember.


There are principals grounded in research for good interface design, for sure. They will help you design a good user interface. But in order to go a step beyond and design an awesome user interface, to me the most important factor is what Kathy Sierra eloquently described as the absence of abruptness.

In a way, the lack of abruptness can be described as just another form of providing feedback to the user and letting him know what's going on, e.g. by sliding a window or viewport out of view instead of just closing it, or by seeing your window smoothly shrink in size as it moves towards the dock (Mac) or task bar (Windows) when you chose to minimize it.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.