Beautiful Things “Work” Better, Except Maybe When We’re Talking About UX Deliverables
Seems to me there’s some sort of meta-critique that can be made (or perhaps has already been made) regarding what Norman observes about attractive things being functionally superior to ugly things, and the conflicting idea in some UX circles that intentionally ugly deliverables might “work better” than high-fidelity comps and prototypes for representing and conveying foundational and structural design intention to our clients.
There’s a prima facie problem with the notion that abstract, simplified, aesthetically-neutral deliverables might be better at conveying design intent and getting durable client approval on specific, complex structural and navigational ideas. Especially if your understanding of Don Norman’s work is that he’s saying attractive things always work better than ugly things. This oversimplified reading of Norman would seem to necessarily stand as an indictment of the traditional approach to IA design, as much of the simplification and abstraction in IA design deliverables is attained by subtraction of visual design elements that correlate with attractive-ness. But hold-up:
[the] pleasure derivable from the appearance or functioning of the tool increases positive affect, broadening the creativity and increasing the tolerance for minor difficulties and blockages. Minor problems in the design are overlooked. The changes in processing style released by positive affect aids in creative problem solving that is apt to overcome both difficulties encountered in the activity as well as those created by the interface design. In other words, when we feel good, we overlook design faults. Use a pleasing design, one that looks good and feels, well, sexy, and the behavior seems to go along more smoothly, more easily, and better. Attractive things work better
In my IA class at UM SI, I talk about how the abstract deliverables we create as information architects can be more effective with client decisionmaking on issues like organization scheme and navigation and labeling because they subtract the highly emotional stuff (photography, color, typography) that “skews” client understanding of the info architecture. Counterintuitively (for some at least), the passage from Norman quoted above strengthens the argument some UX folks have been making with regards to simpler, even ugly deliverables*. The more attractive the deliverables are, the more likely the client will “overlook design faults”.
*NOTE: link to anonymous IA Wiki node with discussion of pretty vs. ugly deliverables is currently offline. I quote this node on a slide in my class, which is viewable here.