An eye-catching and appealing graphic on a mobile phone or website helps people perform tasks quicker and more easily as the job gets more demanding, it added.

"Savings of even a few milliseconds at a time all add up when one is performing multi-step interactions on a website or a mobile phone," said British researchers Irene Reppa of Swansea University and Sine McDougall of Bournemouth University in Britain.

This might make people avoid some interfaces, such as certain websites or phones, in favour of those that maximise efficient performance, they added.

The duo used computer icons in the study because these visuals are well-defined stimuli and part of modern life.

In a search-and-localisation task, participants first memorised a target icon and then searched for it among an array of nine icons. This assignment was designed to reflect the kind of task people perform when interacting with modern electronics.

This includes finding and selecting icons representing tasks to be carried out from among a number of distracting symbols.

Simple and familiar icons were the easiest to find, but when the task got harder, aesthetically appealing icons provided a performance boost that was not found for less-appealing visuals.

"Appealing icons are not only pleasant to use but also speed up people's ability to solve multi-step problems with visuals when using websites or mobile phones," the duo noticed.

Designers can take a few pointers from the results by developing icons which are visually simple, concrete and familiar.