Aesthetic designs are perceived as easier to use than less-aesthetic designs

I chose this principle as the first post in this new series because it’s the basic answer to the question “Why design?” Design is much more than making something look pretty. Studies have shown that designs that look good have a higher probability of being used — whether or not they are actually easier to use. And even if the design is not easier to use, that first impression fosters such a positive attitude toward the good-looking design that it stays over time. Feelings of loyalty, affection and patience are evoked by good design, making people more tolerant of design problems and thus increasing the likelihood of success for the design, whether it’s a product, website, or fashion.

“Positive relationships with a design result in an interaction that helps catalyze creative thinking and problem solving. Negative relationships result in an interaction that narrows thinking and stifles creativity.”1

As an example, see the difference between what Apple and Microsoft were selling in the early 2000s. In my experience with both, the Mac interface was a joy to use not just in the way that the interface was organized but because it felt far more intuitive…so it was more intuitive. Looking at the boxy grey of the Windows interface was not only frustrating but exhausting.

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Apple’s Aqua interface, release with OSX in 2001.
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Windows 2000 – Microsoft hustled to release WIndows XP in 2001 with a much improved interface in order to keep up with Apple.

The take-away is this: we do our best to create crisp clean communications. Admittedly, functionality should always come first. But it’s the aesthetic of the design that will make it truly successful.

1Universal Principles of Design, by William Lidwell, Jim Butler, and Kritina Holden. Beverly, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2003.


Universal Principles of DesignA book has been sitting on my desk for about a year now — a really great book called Universal Principles of Design — I’ve been browsing through it during breaks and lunches. I love this book because it breaks down 125 principles of design into simple chunks that are well written and easy to understand. I will be sharing the contents of this book with you over the next few months. Learn more here »