Aesthetics and the ways in which they influence people are fascinating topics. It’s well-documented that consumers purchase products that align with their self-perception—a high-profile executive may purchase an expensive-looking car for the purpose of appearing elite, while a parent might avoid buying a car in red for fear of appearing too risky.
But aesthetics influence the user and purchaser in far more subtle ways as well. Did you know that beautiful products are actually perceived by users to be easier to use? In the 1990s, Japanese researchers Masaaki Kurosu and Kaori Kashimura found that when usability was controlled (as much as was possible) but the aesthetics were varied, people rated attractive products as easier to use1. Noam Tractinsky2, originally believing this to be a cultural skew, was stunned when he replicated those findings in a study in Israel.
Don Norman, the author of Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things, as well as a number of classic usability and design books, speculates that aesthetics are so influential (at least in part) because unattractive products may increase the users’ anxiety. Anxiety has been shown to cause a narrowing of focus – if you are anxious, you are less likely to explore and try new things if you get stuck.
But aesthetics aren’t just about beauty or even functionality. Aesthetics are also about conveying characteristics. For the mining and construction industries, equipment needs to be able to survive rough treatment and harsh environments— the aesthetics of the equipment need to be able to convey those characteristics. A wearable gas monitor that alerts the worker if dangerous gases are starting to build up in their immediate area — a device that workers are trusting their lives to — wouldn’t be credible if it looked delicate, no matter how tough it might actually be.
Likewise, medical devices that are used in the hospital should have a different aesthetic from those that are used in the home. For clinical environments, the aesthetics of a piece of medical equipment should discourage patients and their families from poking around, but in the home, those same users need an aesthetic that helps them feel comfortable interacting with a medical device.
Our team at Daedalus is adept at researching and then designing products with the necessary aesthetics in mind. By using exploratory tools such as style maps with carefully and deliberately chosen attributes (some examples of which are shown below), our team is able to help our clients pinpoint the combination of characteristics that need to be represented in the product’s aesthetics in order to convey the appropriate information.
We also help our clients push the boundaries of industry norms when the time is right for a zeitgeist change. The Radius BZ1 area gas monitor is the safety industry’s most portable wireless area gas monitor and was designed to reframe and refresh the U.S. safety equipment market’s definition of ruggedness, visibility, and physical ease of use. There had been a widespread, but increasingly outdated, perception in US markets of how durability should be expressed aesthetically, which was increasingly fading in appeal, and often resulted in rugged, but clunky and dated-looking products. Our designers took a different approach, modernizing the look, while still maintaining a sense of durability and conveying an aesthetic appropriate for construction—one that was, in part, inspired by the simple and ubiquitous traffic cone.
The Radius’ industrial design won a 2017 CREATE award from the Pittsburgh Technology Council and garnered Finalist status in the 2017 International Design Excellence Awards (IDEA). Sturdy and agile, we developed a product that ticked every box for our client’s buyers and looked good.
In competitive marketplaces, our clients’ products stand out because of our attention to form alongside function.
1 Kurosu, Masaaki; Kashimura, Kaori (1995). “Apparent Usability vs. Inherent Usability: Experimental Analysis on the Determinants of the Apparent Usability”. Conference Companion on Human Factors in Computing Systems. CHI ’95. New York, NY, USA: ACM: 292–293.
2 Tractinsky, N., Katz, A. S., & Ikar, D. (2000). What is beautiful is usable. Interacting with Computers, 13(2), 127–145.