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Chapter 9. The Aesthetic Factor > Usability and Aesthetics

Usability and Aesthetics

The Human Computer Interaction community has been unduly conservative when it comes to aesthetic expression considerations in the design of the user interface. Within the HCI community, the attitude toward aesthetics has been, at worst, overtly negative. In describing the design of a museum, Norman (1988), says, “Just don't let the focus on cost, or durability, or aesthetics destroy the major point of the museum: to be used, to be understood,” as though to be “enjoyed” should not be one of the “major points” of a museum or is not an important part of the human experience. At best, the HCI community has ignored the role of aesthetics completely, as in the case of many textbooks (Preece, et al., 1994; Dix, et al., 1998; Shneiderman, 1998; Baecker, et al., 1999). A few notable exceptions include recent empirical work showing relationships between aesthetic perception and usability (Kurosu and Kashimora, 1995; Tratinsky, 1997), as well as the treatment of HCI by B. Laurel in her book Computers as Theater (1991). In the foreword to Laurel's book, Norman takes a view different from the one he expressed earlier. He asks, “Do you enjoy the experience of using these new technologies?...Perhaps it never occurred to you that the concepts of 'enjoy' and 'experience' could apply....After all, the purpose of most of these technologies is to assist in doing our daily activities...and we most certainly should enjoy the experience of doing those activities.”

As a matter of everyday practice, human interface designers recommend the use of aesthetic expression in the form of enriched graphics, animated graphics, or 3-D graphics only when it enhances the functionality and efficiency of use. Aesthetic expression for the sake of enriching the user's enjoyment is fundamentally absent from design recommendations of user-centered design experts (Meads and Nielsen, 2001).


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