Mat Janson Blanchet's academic works

Analyze a feature that favors beauty over usability

Posted on July 23, 2020

Human-Computer Interaction for User Experience Design


In the Notes component for this unit, you learned about the specific design heuristics that can help ensure an effective and intuitive user interface.

Consider an example in which Apple, in an attempt to economize on-screen space, designed the Macintosh Finder scrollbar to disappear when not in use. This is a case of choosing “beauty over usability” by not applying Fitts’s law (for a recap of Fitts’s law, refer to Video 2 in the Unit 2 notes).

Participate in the class-wide discussion forum by sharing your responses to the following prompts:

– Identify a design feature you have encountered that prioritizes “beauty over usability”.
– Identify the heuristics that this feature violates or upholds, and suggest how you might have designed it differently.


Feature: The PS4 buttons and disc slot

PS4 console and controller

Beauty over usability

The PS4 is a slick device obviously built with aesthetics in mind: the branding is black on black, so that it’s not visible unless you are really close to it; the buttons are tiny, so they do not stand out, and the disc slot is completely invisible.

Its slickness becomes a problem quickly: unless you know where the buttons are—on the front panel, in the middle, they are 5mm-wide vertical buttons with 2mm-wide markings—you can look up for them for a long time, even without visual impairment. The expectation from the designers was likely that the user should instead interact with the device via controllers to turn the device on, and to navigate the UI to eject the disc.

As mentioned above, the disc slot is invisible. Inserting a disc should be an obvious and easy action, as most of the games on this device are sold on physical discs. Users can end up bumping the disc a few times into a location that they think is appropriate for a disc, risking to scratch it, until actually finding the slot.

Violated heuristic: Physical level

There are likely more than one violation with this design, but the obvious one is the physical one: the user cannot necessarily find or touch the buttons easily, or enter a disc into the console.

This could also fall under “Recognition vs Recall”: I own the device, I obviously entered a disc into previous, yet every time I have to do so again, I have to look very carefully, and still I do not always manage to get it right on the first try.

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