Stitching it all together
For simplicity, I’ve presented two separate arguments for the value of aesthetics: one focused on cognitive benefits, the other citing how aesthetics influence affect.
But there’s another bit of information I saved for last.
Recent studies of emotions are finding that we can’t actually separate cognition from affect. Separate studies in economics and in neuroscience are proving that:
“affect, which is inexplicably linked to attitudes, expectations and motivations, plays a significant role in the cognition of product interaction…the perception that affect and cognition are independent, separate information processing systems is flawed.”*
In other words, how we think cannot be separated from how we feel. At all times, we are evaluating (affect) and interpreting (cognition) the world around us.
This raises some interesting questions—especially in the area of decision making. In short, our rational choices aren’t so rational (something we’ll talk about in Section Three). From studies on choice to first impressions, neuroscience is exploring how the brain works—and it’s kind of scary. We’re not as in charge of our decisions as we’d like to believe.
Consider what you’re doing with your interfaces to speak to people’s emotions. Industrial product design, automobile manufacturing, and other more mature industries get this—with tools such as Kano modeling that have been used for decades (see Chapter 24). But user interface development is still catching up on what these other disciplines already know: the most direct way to influence a decision or perception is through the emotions.
So, is “pretty design” important?
When you consider application design and development, how do you think of visual design? Is it a skin that adds some value—a layer on top of the core functionality? Or is this beauty something more?
In the early 1900s, “form follows function” became the mantra of modern architecture. Frank Lloyd Wright changed this phrase to “form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union,” using nature as the best example of this integration.
The more we learn about people, and how our brains process information, the more we see the truth of that phrase: form and function aren’t separate. If form exists independently of function, and we can treat aesthetics and function as two separate elements, then we ignore the evidence that beauty is much more than decoration. Our brains can’t help but agree.