How much the users are willing to pay in term of usability in order to have a visually appealing application?

Will they forgive a difficult pattern just because it is visually attractive?

How much are the users inclined to rate better an application that has a good graphic design even if it does not work perfectly or if the usability patter is not so smooth?

Do you have any good article on this topic?
What are your thoughts?

is the first impression (the aesthetic) the most relevat part of the users judgement (look at http://lifehacker.com/#!5797581/how-your-first-impressions-and-perceptions-can-shape-reality)

  • Not exactly on the topic but quite close: Myth #25: Aesthetics are not important if you have good usability – Phil May 2 '11 at 20:26
  • You centered the point. This is significant: "Studies show that emotions play an important role in the users’ experience. If a website has a pleasant visual design, users are more relaxed, tend to find the website more credible and easier to use." sometimes the users will rate it easier to use even if it is a nightmare just because they remember that the site was prettier than another one... – ALoR May 2 '11 at 20:38
  • I don't think that's what the article is saying ("users will rate it easier to use even if it is a nightmare"). I think it's saying that if two websites/applications have the same usability, the one with the better visual design will get a better rating. But I agree that users might be more willing to forgive glitches if the visual design is great. I think one of the main problems is that beauty is hard to measure, usability isn't though. So usually it's a matter of priorities. – Phil May 2 '11 at 20:56
  • ok, I've exaggerated my words with "nightmare". you are right: the users forgive glitches if design is great. imho event if those glitches are not so small. users will think that they will be fixed in the future and continue to use the app, they will adapt, they will pay usability for emotional return. – ALoR May 2 '11 at 21:04
  • In the first days of the iPhone, without copy/paste it was a nightmare for me to quote something from the web on facebook or into emails, but I liked my iPhone so much that I ended up adapting myself to the lack of copy/paste... – ALoR May 2 '11 at 21:11

10 Answers 10


The degree users are willing to compromise usability for visual effects or other aesthetics depends on the users, tasks, and environment (but then, doesn’t everything?). For some rules of thumb, you may favor more concessions to aesthetics for:

  • Consumers and younger users (versus employees or older users).

  • Products used in a public or social environment, especially when the product is proximal to the user (e.g., anything the users wear or carry on their person).

  • Products used in undemanding physical environments, with little interference (e.g., from poor viewing conditions, bulky clothes, or fatigue) or time pressure.

  • Simple products that mostly just present information to passive users, rather than highly interactive products where users manipulate information.

That said, aesthetics and usability are usually not zero-sum. Indeed, “emotional” design principles often enhance usability. Principles of good aesthetic form tend to make neatly laid out UIs that are well organized and easy to scan, as well as good looking. References to positive associations may also serve as references to helpful metaphors to communicate the means of interaction.

Most often, problems come from misusing or over-using aesthetics –making unrealistic references or chasing fashions, which tend to be extreme. These not only reduce usability but also have little aesthetic value for the users in the long run.

I’ve details at Beauty and the Beast.


In a recent study I read on UX Magazine that a user puts their worth of the product in this order of importance:

  1. Functionality (What it does for them)

  2. User Experience

  3. Graphics treatments, etc

So, in summary it can only support good UX.

  • Link to study would be great! tnx – Phil May 2 '11 at 20:32
  • 1
    @phil added the link. Enjoy! Its a great article. – jonshariat May 2 '11 at 20:52
  • Great article, +1 for the link :) – Phil May 2 '11 at 21:03

Don Norman, design critic and usability expert, says "The new me is beauty..." http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlQEoJaLQRA

This is a shift we've seen among many usability experts. The idea is that usability should be priority #1. But usability alone is not enough. You should also strive to create a stronger emotional response with your product, and that doesn't mean compromising usability.

I know you cited graphic design in your question. And I think there are many cases to be found where good graphic design improves the effectiveness and popularity of a website. Heck, I've seen a 50% increase in returning visitors after making my homepage a little more fun and engaging. But I'm going to talk about an even more controversial subject: animation.

An example of these principles at work is the new Windows Phone 7. The UI is fluid, natural and easy to use. "Clicking" a button causes it to shrink momentarily, making it obvious that you've actually clicked it. This animation plays out in a fraction of a second before the next screen would have loaded anyway. Little details like this improve the perceived responsiveness of the UI.

Are animations necessary to make a good UI? No. But this is a case where the animations and motion tweens provide instant feedback to actually create a more pleasant user experience.

  • good link! I liked it. – ALoR May 2 '11 at 20:57

"Will they forgive a difficult pattern just because it is visually attractive?"

The first time, they will.

And then every time thereafter, they'll be swearing at it.

Not that that should stop anyone from making visually attractive UIs. But the goal should be to obviously simplify the pattern whenever possible/appropriate.

As for Wordpad vs. Vi, those are two rather different target audiences. It's not an either/or, but simply two different products for two different market segments.


isn't good design more than simple aesthetics?

Good design leads the eye, creates symmetry, highlights the structure and importance of different elements in the page.



This might be of interest: There was a recent case study published in EConsultancy about the recent Waitrose (a UK supermarket) website redesign.

First impressions

First impressions and opinions of the general look and feel were greatly in Waitrose’s favour. Whereas the Tesco site was described as too busy and off-putting, users described its rival as being cleaner, less cluttered and more ‘beautiful’. It is a design scheme that has clearly been well crafted.

But as in all things, the devil is in the detail and the slick design starts to fall apart when the user starts to interact with the page.

A site can look very good but if it's unsuable then you'll fustrate and lose customers.


In Norman's Design of Everyday Things, he tells a story about getting trapped between two elegant glass doors. He couldn't figure out how to open them, so he assumed they were locked and started banging on the door to get help.

If usability is seriously lacking, it will always generally yield disastrous results. It doesn't matter how pretty it looks in this case.


Not much. I've seen quite a lot of applications that had all sorts of visual bells and whistles but were essentially broken in terms of usability - case in point: the programming tool for Logitech's Harmony brand of universal remotes that's currently testing my nerves.

The problem is that the design factor wears off quite quickly - the sting of frustration or feeling stupid because users can't get the application to do what they want stays for much longer.

My theory is that visual appeal is much easier to sell to one's boss than a well laid out navigation concept or a sound information architecture, that's why we're seeing it so often.

  • I was not referring to the visually bloated applications, just comparing an application with bare graphic but very usable with a visually attractive one but harder to use. – ALoR May 2 '11 at 20:40
  • So was I :-) Visual bloat is another topic entirely, sorry if that came over in a confusing way... – Jan May 3 '11 at 7:42

I would say near to nothing. The users wants things that works.

That said, visual apperance is an usability attribute as well. And you need to define how important that attribute is for the overall usability. I doubt that a control panel in a nuclear power plant can lean onto "It's a few glitches, but hey. It looks nice!".

It is also important to remember that you can have both a nice looking UI and an understandable UI...

  • I agree with you, but my question arose because "the mass" likes 'wordpad' and dislikes 'vi'. My question is not exactly on working/not working app, but on the perception the users have with a good looking app... – ALoR May 2 '11 at 20:37
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    @ALoR, I would say that visual apperance is underestimated. A goodlooking thing bring forth good feelings and positive emotions. In the broader sense, that is what we strives for. And you actually raises an important aspect of usability that is often forgotten, the timeline. Usability should be evaluated differently on various stages. We can actually talk about usability before the product is used, further we have usability at the first time it is used and after long time use. You need to know which usability stage you are evaluating. The visual perception is more important at earlier stages. – Jørn E. Angeltveit May 2 '11 at 21:10
  • I agree with the different stages idea. – ALoR May 2 '11 at 21:15

A good-looking app makes me believe that if whoever developed the app took the time to make it pretty, he/she definitely made time to make it work. So my initial perception will get me to download and use the app for the first time. However, if the UI is VERY clunky and the app clearly does not work, then I'll look for something else. Good UI definitely makes me more sympathetic toward an app where all the i's are not dotted yet.

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