9. The Aesthetic Factor

The author refers to the designer's "virtuosity of expression" and the user's "experience of artistic enrichment" on the Internet, and suggests that the user's experience within an "enriched environment" can be significant, depending on their goals and expectations of a given Web site.

EN: It seems already that the author is having difficulty expressing what he means by "aestehtics" - I don't think he quite gets it, so I expect to skip a lot of babble.

9.1 Usability and Aesthetics

Usability has largely been indifferent or hostile toward aesthetic concerns, as the two are often in conflict - but visual appeal may be the reason a user chooses to enter a site and explore it further, or to prefer one site to another where the same tasks can be accomplished. This is especially important in a competitive environment.

Fortunately, the author notes that while aesthetic concerns are valid, they should not violate usability of a site - design that interferes, rather than enhances, the user's experience with a site can be counterproductive: it can distract from or obscure important elements, clutter the layout, cause arbitrary grouping or division of content, interfere with legibility, push key content into subordinate locations, etc.

In the end, he suggests (rightly) that it is a careful balance between aesthetic demands that do not interfere with usability and usability constraints that do not destroy visual appeal.

9.2 Simplicity and Enrichment

Another dilemma: users perform tasks most efficiently on sites that have simple designs, but rate sites with "enriched" presentations as being more appealing (Gonzales 1996) (EN: It's well known that studies often utilize college students as subjects, so these studies may well be biased toward the tastes and attitudes of a youth audience.)

The author asserts that artistic expression can be achieved without violating the utility principle of simplicity ("simplicity" in this case is in contrast to "complexity"), and provides four core principles:

9.2.1 Art should not interfere with the site's goal and functionality.

Some specific ways in which art can get in the way:

  1. Visibility or legibility of content is detracted by artistic choices
  2. Animated effects distract the user from important content
  3. Content presented in graphics or Flash applets is not usable by users with vision disabilities, and is hidden from search engines
  4. Graphics dominate the page and adversely affect the placement of content

9.2.2 Art should not result in visual noise.

"Visual Noise" is meant to indicate clutter - an excessive number of visual elements, bright colors, animations, and so on can completely flummox users.

9.2.3 Art should not allow misinterpretation.

An image can either help visitors understand the purpose of the site, or confuse them. An example is given of a site called "Tax interactive" - which the designer abbreviated to "Tax-I" and showed an image of a taxicab. At a glance, users assumed the site was about taxicabs, not taxes.

9.2.4 Art should be consistent with the visitor's Web experience.

The designer should understand the visual conventions of the Web. The example given was a design that user page headers containing the title of a page that resembled advertising banners, causing users to ignore them (functionally, the page had no headline, and users couldn't identify what it was about at a glance).

9.3 The Use of Graphics

A key element of computer interfaces is that graphics are often used as functional elements (a picture of a folder is a directory, with which the user can interact) or badges that have informational meaning (a "podcast" icon), or as methods of communicating information (a pie chart) - and not just as elements of visual design. Ideally, functional graphics can have visual appeal, but there should be a clear indication as to which graphics are functional and which are aesthetic.

The author then gives random advice:

EN: In the end, I think that some of this advice seems sound, but I sense the author doesn't quite grasp aesthetic principles and instead subscribes to the notions that "aesthics" means "what I happen to like, for reasons I am unable to explain."