Ghost in the Pixel

Uday Gajendar's musings on interaction design

Why beauty matters to IxD

From the concluding paragraph of my graduate thesis written in 2001 at Carnegie Mellon (advised by Dick Buchanan):

Interaction designers must be concerned with beauty as our environment of human experience becomes rapidly shaped by digital, networked, multifunctional artifacts that influence our attitudes and behaviors. Designers have a profound responsibility to ensure that designed interactions contribute positively to our personal and collective sense of being human. People are fundamentally analog, adaptive, sensual, emotionally conscious beings who possess values, ideals, beliefs, perceptions, and emotions that impact their behavior. It is time for designers to invent products which enable experiences that respect humans for who they are and recognize their potential. Humanizing technological expression is a critical goal and duty of interaction designers, as part of an overall effort to make life satisfying, fulfilling, and meaningful in everyday situations. To combat the ugliness of disruptive, alienating encounters that deprive humans of their ideational, cultural, and personal aspirations is the driving motive for those who strive to create beauty in interaction design.

To elaborate on this from current perspective of having practiced interaction design for the last 7 years in silicon valley…

Aesthetics and beauty matter because if they didn’t, we would be creating something that’s incomplete, not quite fully formed in terms of a truly engaging experience that is delightful, exciting, and memorable. As John Dewey, experience design theorist (from the 1930’s!) phrased it, “an inchoate experience”. It lacks emotion and vitality, reducing the encounter to a meaningless episodic encounter…

In more tangible terms, refined visuals and animations (transitions, motions, dynamic states) communicate a strong sense of interaction and shape the encounter to make it that much more attractive, inviting, and rewarding (or if done poorly, dissatisfying and miserable…and forgettable). This is true for the hardware, software, and netware.

Just as important, the movement of the mouse, the rhythms of clicking and double-clicking (or you prefer, tapping and gliding and waving), how pixels are engaged to result in feedback and action–all that must be thought out to achieve a smooth, graceful, satisfying interaction.

Finally, every artifact that is part of the workflow (designed touchpoints, if you will) should embody a consistent, clear, unifying and reinforcing theme (or brand, voice, style) to amplify the overall quality of engagement. Think of the Apple “purchase to pay to unboxing to usage” flow for an iPod or iMac–seamless, fluid, brilliant. Every aspect fits into an integrative whole, complete and connected.

To read more about my thoughts on beauty/aesthetics for IxD, please see the following related posts:


Part 1: General thoughts on design aesthetics

Part 2: Interpretations of beauty as a value of user experience

Part 3: Towards an integrative aesthetic experience

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