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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


More Noise Is Better

Last week I was watching a German television show (they actually do have worthwhile programming at times) which investigated and tested noise levels of household appliances such as vacuum cleaners, dish washers and kitchen robots, among others. Generally I would conclude that the less noise these various machines made the better. Yet, user research indicated that a vacuum cleaner, for instance, which made less noise was perceived as less powerful and therefore less effective. Odd, is it not?

Towards the end the research concluded that some product characteristics are so fundamental to the (positive) value assigned by users that removing (or reducing) them will translate into a negatively affected perception. There is an interesting line to be drawn to design and usability. However the question remains how this would apply to user interfaces and web design in general. I’m still trying to see what role user expectation, accustomedness and perception play and how some assumptions designers make can have an opposite effect. Can you think of any analogies similar to the vacuum cleaner case, but applied to user interfaces or web design?

This item was posted by dhilhorst on Monday, February 16th, 2004.


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3 comments on “More Noise Is Better”

  1. Posted by Jonathan Hicks on Monday, February 16th, 2004.

    Absolutely. I’m colloborating with a group of web developers, who have designed (in my view) an excellent site for themselves. Its very minimal, but well laid out, with whitespace in the right areas, attention to leading etc. For people who claimed not to be designers, I think they’ve surpassed themselves.

    However, their client feedback has all been the same. Rather than praising its clarity and readibility its “too white, not enough imagery or colour, not enough ‘going on’ “. The perception was that very little time or money had been spent on it. Shame!

  2. Posted by Ste on Monday, February 16th, 2004.

    I think “good design” to some extent is a generational thing. What many professionals see as good design (good use of white space and typography with images used sparingly for effect and to add meaning), others see as overly simplistic. At times this can become quite frustrating. (I’ve had bosses that want to see more “movement and excitement” on homepages that already felt to me cluttered and busy.) Oddly, my own mother sometimes prefers amateurish websites simply because they have cute animated gifs or photos of kittens. Sometimes I wonder if the whole of my design education should have focused more on implementing photos of kittens into everything I create …

  3. Posted by Sam Royama on Monday, February 16th, 2004.

    One factor I think might play a significant role in this area of design is the amount of overt thought a user gives to any particular design. If a user is asked or made to think about the interface they are using, then they may “perceive” more problems than there actually are.

    Users noticed the lack of noise given by a vacuum cleaner. The cue gives the users an opportunity to say “Hey, why is my vacuum so quiet?” One assumed answer is “not very powerful”.

    So this begs the question: is good design invisible or transparent? If the user never has to question the interface, perhaps it is doing its job – allowing the user to interact with the product effortlessly.