In our previous post of this series on designing the perfect human-machine interface (HMI), we discussed user experience and the psychological aspects of the HMI. Today, we’re going to take a deeper dive into the dimension of product design with the most tangible impact on user experience: aesthetics.

Aesthetics may seem secondary to functionality, but don’t underestimate its importance. Beyond just “look and feel,” aesthetics will impact user experience, satisfaction, and even loyalty. That’s because aesthetics impact usability as much as style and branding. Consider the following questions.

The look of it: does the HMI cultivate the right impression?

Think about Apple products, like the iPhone or iPad. These sleek, futuristic devices stand out when compared to more generic third-party products. That’s partly why Apple customers are willing to pay a premium and stay loyal to a single brand. Further, visual appeal can materially impact not only the user’s impression of the machine, but also the impression made on anyone else who sees it. All of this means that design aesthetics can have significant business implications.

The feel of it: does the HMI promote good user experience?

Even design choices that don’t affect function can still affect usability. Hoffmann + Krippner’s GT Technology, for example, promotes greater tactile feedback whenever a user pushes a membrane switch button. Such feedback makes the machine more pleasing to use, reduces errors, and saves time because users don’t have to double-check their inputs for accuracy. In fact, virtually all aspects of aesthetic design – color schemes, embossing options, surface treatments, LED lighting options, etc. – can impact how successful users are when interacting with the machine.

The sheer experience of it: does the HMI please the user?

This question is actually about more than just ensuring that users have a pleasing experience with the device. The overall aesthetic experience of the device can influence whether it even works properly in the intended application environment. We’ll talk more about this is the final post in this series; but for the moment, just know that aesthetic design choices can impact how much work it takes to interact with the machine, how long the equipment lasts, and how easy it is to use overall.

For example, touchscreens provide less feedback to the user unless you add acoustic or visual feedback elements. Display size and placement impact the ease with which users can operate the machine and gather information from it. Control configuration can affect precision of inputs. Lighting options affect visibility and clarity. Some options have longer lifespans than others. Some options have different power requirements. And so on.

Ultimately, building the perfect HMI is like piecing together a puzzle, and there’s often no right answer to these questions – and seemingly no end to the available options. Because every choice has both advantages and disadvantages, it’s imperative to ensure you understand your choices.

So, what are the specific aesthetic options that can impact all of these things? For more information about your choices, please download our “Design Guide To Your Perfect User-Interface.” To start this series of articles from the beginning, read the first entry, “What’s Needed to Design a Successful Human-Machine Interface.” 

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