How we choose what to buy is a key question that should be asked when designing an ecommerce website. While we all like to think we all make rational decisions, considering the functional nature of products, aesthetics clearly influences people and their choices.
But why are we so easily influenced by aesthetics?
How aesthetics influences us
How a product looks certainly seems to influence our judgement - how many times have you bought a mobile phone that you liked the look of, only to realise upon using it for a few days that it didn't offer all the functions you wanted?
There's been a lot of research demonstrating that aesthetics affects perceptions of a product and its usability. When asked to judge the usability and aesthetics scores of a series of ATM screens, 1 study found peoples' perceived usability scores were more closely related to the perceived aesthetics scores than the screens' actual usability. Further studies were able to replicate these results across cultures.
The results imply people aren't able to distinguish usable and less usable objects, believing the aesthetically pleasing ones to be most usable.
But why does this interference occur? It's believed the main reason for this effect on peoples' judgements is what's known as a “halo effect”. This is where the aesthetic aspect of the design directly influences the perception of other aspects. For example the perception that a well fit suit or stylish dress makes the wearer seem smarter.
How does usability come into this?
Research has found that usability has a strong effect on people's judgements after using the object. But during the early stages of interaction with an object or system, aesthetics is clearly the major influence. This “halo effect” doesn't hold for long, if you wait 15 minutes to be served in a plush restaurant your opinion of the restaurant goes down, no matter how good the service afterwards.
Usability becomes an important factor after a limited interaction with a product. A study found pleasure (closely related to aesthetics) and ergonomics (closely related to usability) both had a strong influence on the appeal of a product, but at differing levels at differing times. Appeal was strongly influenced by just aesthetics before use. But after use, both usability and aesthetics had an almost equal influence." (Continued via Webcredible, Usability News) [Usability Resources]