Anyone who works in design understands the very real importance of the visual, from aesthetics and colour choice, to information design and orderliness. They also know how often these aspects of the user experience are underestimated, neglected, or scoffed at for their lack of quantifiability. The commercial sector, with its dependence on marketing, understands the sometimes, irrational importance that design can have on the success of a product. However, the importance of the visual is often entirely lost in educational contexts, where funding is scarce, and disciplines get isolated. Usability can be corralled into checklists of rules and heuristics. Aesthetics are not so easily tamed. You really do have to acknowledge an intuition, or innate talent in designers and artists, and you really can't reduce aesthetic appeal to formulas. This makes it an uncomfortable area for a very number-dependent society. Thats why it's always interesting when research steps in to prove the point.
Here's the abstract of a recent article from The Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society, that shows how aesthetics can contribute to user satisfaction.
Aesthetics, visual appeal, usability and user satisfaction: what do the user’s eyes tell the user’s brain?
Gitte Lindgaard / The Australian Journal of Emerging Technologies and Society
"The impact of colour on the first impression of a website is discussed in the light of several rather puzzling experimental findings, which suggest that background colour and colour combinations might influence users’ subsequent opinion of, and satisfaction with, a site. Theories of, and approaches to, studying aesthetics and emotion are outlined briefly. It is concluded that, although the criteria by which people judge visual appeal, user satisfaction and trustworthiness are still unclear, perceived usability appears to be related to the detection of stumbling blocks that hinder smooth interaction with a web site and probably to the orderliness of screens. User satisfaction is a complex construct that incorporates several measurable concepts and is the culmination of the interactive user experience. Experimental results suggest that people may be more satisfied with a beautiful product that performs sub-optimally than with a more usable but less appealing product. A glance into the future importance of the topics discussed is offered. "
Read the full text of "Aesthetics, visual appeal, usability and user satisfaction: what do the user’s eyes tell the user’s brain?"
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