Aaron Brethorst

Round peg in a square hole, rabid generalist.

Is Ugly the New Beautiful?

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Will Pearson - a blind doctoral student, Microsoft MVP, and one of my favorite people in the world - posted a comment on my blog this morning about the potentially adverse effects of creating a splash screen that’s actually too attractive:

[M]ost people have a heuristic that says if something looks too polished then effort has been spent on the exterior at the expense of the interior, apart from maybe luxury items.

Will raises an excellent point, here. This topic’s actually been under a lot of discussion this year, perhaps most notably when Scoble declared:

We’ve built a bulls**t [ed: Scoble’s censoring, not mine] filter that filters out well-designed things in a commercial context. We trust things more when they look like they were done for the love of it rather than the sheer commercial value of it.

Warning - obvious bias follows! I agree with this perspective in some cases. If you examine v1.0 of Apple’s Xcode IDE, it looked significantly more-polished and refined than their older, uglier Project Builder IDE. However, Xcode 1.0 felt clunkier, slower and harder-to-use than Project Builder. Oh yeah, and it crashed a lot, too. Obvious bias concludes here

I think there’s a gray area between ‘friggin’ ugly, but super-functional’ and ‘all sizzle, no steak.’ If you’re going to build something gorgeous, make sure you have the technical underpinnings in place to back up the aesthetic polish (or make sure you’re building a luxury item, as Will mentions). Take a look at Mac OS X or Windows Vista; both of these operating systems are absolutely gorgeous, and they have the solid foundation necessary to keep most people from saying: ‘who cares about the eye candy? Your product sucks!’ The iPod is another fantastic example of this. It’s a beautiful, refined piece of hardware with the usability and feature set to match. Or the BMW Z4. Or the Xbox 360. Well, you get the idea.

Will - thanks for knocking me down a notch, there. I missed an important caveat in my post before, and I appreciate the reality-check :smile:

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