8 November 2011

Design pseudoscience

Designers use rounded corners so much today that they’re more of an industry standard than a design trend. They’re not only found on software user interfaces, but hardware product designs as well. So what is it about rounded corners that make them so popular? Indeed they look appealing, but there’s more to it than that.

From Why Rounded Corners are Easier on the Eyes

On the surface level, this is a well-researched design article, full of examples and references to research that supports its statements.

It is also complete nonsense.

Now, it isn’t unstructured nonsense, the sort of gobbledegook you find in the notebooks of the severely schizophrenic and the columns of daily newspapers, but internally coherent structured nonsense where the writer is building up to the point he wants to make, facts be damned.

Note: Other people’s writing aren’t facts. They’re just shit other people write.

So, what, specifically, is wrong with it?

None of the references prove the writer’s point. One is a nonsense PDF from a neuromarketing firm (an evil industry responsible for a large portion of the bullshit pseudoscience news organisations today call science coverage). Two are thought exercises full of speculation with no data, testing, or research to back them and have a whole lot of words like ‘cognitive’  thrown in for that fancy science-y feeling. One is a diagram style guide with no references to support its mandates. One is a piece of research into a particular facet of how our eyes work with no conclusions or statements on the validity of rounded corners in design.1

The reasons why we like rounded corners probably have nothing to do with rounded corners.

We don’t like designs that have rounded corners because they have rounded corners. We like rounded corners because they are in designs we like. Get this wrong and you’re making the mistake of claiming that it rains because the streets are wet.

When fantastic modernist designs with square corners are popular, we like square corners. When Jonathan Ive puts rounded corners on shit, we like rounded corners.

Don’t resort to pseudoscience to validate your preferences in fashion trends.


  1. Generalising from research abstracts is dangerous and dumb. Even minor changes in context can completely transform the conclusions of almost any study published and most of us aren’t competent to judge which changes are important and which aren’t. ↩

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