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Beauty Isn't Only Skin Deep: How Web Appearance Relates to Function

So, your website ranks at the top of a Google search. Great! But does it look good? And why should you care?

Researchers in Japan conducted a study to determine if there is a correlation between appearance and the perceived functionality of an object, like an ATM. They wanted to know if people would find the ATM easier to use if it was more attractive. And people did.

In a piece for The Signal, Karen Maleck-Whiteley recapped the study: “There was no real difference between the actual machines tested and how they functioned, but the one that looked nicer was consistently thought to be easier to use.”


Another researcher (Tractinsky) decided to duplicate the study in Israel. His theory was that Japanese “culture is known for its aesthetic tradition” and that in Israel the functionality would probably be more evenly rated. He was surprised to find that the Israelis gave the nice-looking machine even higher usability ratings than the Japanese had.

But why do we interpret pretty things as being more functional? Maleck-Whiteley defers to Don Norman’s “Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things” for explanation. Norman believes beautiful things positively alter our mental state, increasing feelings of happiness and decreasing feelings of stress and anguish. When we’re not stressed, things seem simpler.

So what does that mean for your website? Even if the navigation is simple enough for the E*TRADE baby’s milk-a-holic girlfriend to follow, your site could be turning off visitors if there are no images, dull colors, or fonts that aren’t web-friendly. And if they don’t get past the home page, if they don’t buy anything, and if they don’t come back, your great search engine ranking won’t amount to much.

Take an objective look at your website. Better still, ask your customers what they think of it. Their feedback can help you design and build a site that’s functional and attractive.

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