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"Beauty and the Bad"
Aug 2006

"Beauty and the Bad"

We live in a world where aesthetics do matter. Whether in our social interactions or any other forms of interactions, aesthetics play a significant role in associating the beautiful with the good and the ugly with the bad.
Instead of rejecting the existence of such mentalities, like most usability experts do, we should probably use it in order to make the user’s experience better.
This discussion is an attempt to reveal the social reasons underlying that stereotype. I urge those of you who defend the principle “Physical doesn’t matter” to spare me this speech because those are the first to shed tears on a Beethoven and stare at the magical colors of the horizon. The main focus of this article is to realize why we subconsciously associate the beautiful with the good and the ugly with the bad; and even though a lot of people succeed in controlling such judgments, and before judging decide to see beyond the apparent, if the beautiful turned out to be bad, their judgment of it is less “bad” than if it is ugly and turned out to be “bad”. It is human! It is anchored in our minds. Why? – Check out the following illustrations and you will understand, as you grew up seeing such associations more often than you drank milk!

When Good is associated with Beauty and Evil with Ugliness…

When Bad becomes Good, Ugly becomes Beautiful…


When Good becomes Bad, Beautiful becomes Ugly.


We have been raised to see it this way; even if we control it and try to overcome it, we will still believe that “What is beautiful is good”! We are therefore up to a certain extent, hedonists and beauty definitely affects our judgment.

Many of you at this point are starting to wonder what all this has to do with usability. Well, assuming most people lived up to the stereotype of the Beautiful and Good, aesthetics will determine whether a product will be used in the first place before even talking about its usability. When you first embrace a product, you will immediately know if it is attractive to you or not, and this will define your later interaction with it, and most importantly will affect your later judgments of it including its usability.

Remember the Ford Edsel? – It was a revolutionary car back in the 50’s in terms of quality and functionality, but it was Ugly and in fact it turned out to be the biggest failure in Ford’s history!

The next question that you might want to ask, especially if you read Marcio’s blog, is how ugly products kick in… Oh well, if there is no rival, the need overcomes the beauty!
Loewy stated beautifully that “Between two products equal in price, function and quality, the one with the most attractive exterior will win.” However, when it is an innovation, there are no other competing products in the market, and when those arise the product would have picked up, the users would not easily want to switch and the product remains popular.

My rule of thumb: For the user, Need comes first followed by Aesthetics and Usability.

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