Aesthetic-Usability Effect

“Beauty over function.”

In 1995, researchers at the Hitachi Design Center studied the “aesthetic-usability effect” with an ATM. A less usable but good-looking ATM interface beat easier-to-use UIs with poor aesthetics. The researchers found that a positive emotional response from visual design makes the user more tolerant of issues—such as software bugs, poor latency, or missing features. Pleasing aesthetics can be a literal mask for product problems.

Beauty creates a halo, making people believe that the product is high-quality. We perceive pretty people as smarter, funnier, and all-around better. An attractive person can charm us into overlooking mistakes or social fumbles.

The aesthetic-usability effect can prevent us from getting real feedback or understanding the actual value of something (i.e., pretty resumes could compensate for missing qualifications). When you want feedback on something visual, keep the design simple so people will focus on the content. Some designers even create purposely “ugly” websites to flex against this effect.


  1. Keep the design basic when you want genuine feedback on the function or content of something (i.e., a piece of writing, an app).
  2. Spend time on aesthetics if you want to improve adoption. The positive emotions elicited from your audience could be the “tipping factor” (i.e., a recruiter selects your resume because it looks better than others).