New operating systems often look more “flash” than the previous iteration, with many an Apple/Android fan raving to their friends about the new look, but do improved aesthetics actually make the product better? According to new research by Irene Reppa of Swansea University and Siné McDougall of Bournemouth University, the answer is yes 1.
By testing participants performing a search-and-localization task that mimics how modern electronic devices are used, the researchers investigated how the design of computer icons (used as they are well-defined stimuli and pervasive to modern everyday life) affected the participant’s speed in completing the task.
As may be expected, simple, familiar icons were found most easily for simple tasks. However, as the tasks were made more difficult it was found that the visual appeal of the icons influenced the participant’s speed in completing the task, with more aesthetically pleasing icons improving speed when compared to their uglier counterparts.
Whilst the increases in speed may be small, Reppa commented that, “Savings of even a few milliseconds at a time all add up when one is performing multi-step interactions on a website or a mobile phone. This might make people avoid some interfaces, such as certain websites or phones, in favour of those that maximise efficient performance”.
The researchers’ findings also showed that more aesthetically pleasing icons particularly improved the speed of the participants in stressful situations. Reppa and McDougall’s results can help guide designers into developing icons that are simple and familiar, particularly when used for tasks that require speedy responses.
So if you are designing a website, app, or any other electronic medium, remember that making it look good doesn’t just make your product cooler – it makes it quicker too.
Edited by Debbie Nicol