Do UI Aesthetics Matter?

David Heinemeier Hansson from 37signals wrote an interesting post yesterday on the Signal vs Noise blog.

The post talks about the trivialization of beauty in technology products. The example given was the MacBook Air, Apple’s super-thin notebook. Some people think great design doesn’t matter as long as the function is solid – they don’t give much value to aesthetics and believe that people who purchase something like a MacBook Air are just doing it to impress others.

David argues that aesthetics in technology products are important because they make the product enjoyable to use. You’ll be able to appreciate great design by using the product every day. I agree. I also think good aesthetics give the product character and soul. Of course good design must follow function – which means it must not be superfluous.

What about the user interface – does the way software looks matter? Scott Berkun, who worked on several projects at Microsoft, including IE, Windows and MSN, thinks so:

The way a person feels about an object or a thing influences how successful they will be in using it. A user forced to use something they don't like because of how it looks or feels will be unhappy to some degree, no matter how well they do on usability tests.

- Scott Berkun, UI That Kills: Swords, Craft, and User Interfaces

Scott uses a katana example in his essay. The japanese katana is a weapon crafted with great care and expertise that delivers both, performance and aesthetics.

We get happiness and enjoyment from a lot of beautiful products. Take cars for example. Any car would get you from point A to point B (hopefully), but we just won’t have as much fun driving a Lada as an Audi. Sure, the Audi may perform better, but that’s not the only thing that makes it great – its design and aesthetics are just as important.

In the same vein I believe that by spending a little time making your interface look good would add value. It will differentiate your product and give it polish; but more important, it will make the product experience more enjoyable for your customers. Computers and software are tools, but as most of us use them every day I believe we should care about them and make them the best they can be.

What do you think? Does it matter what an interface looks like? Should you spend time designing an attractive aesthetic? I’d love to hear your thoughts.