Web Users Judge Sites Instantly

According to an article in “news @ nature.com” by Michael Hopkin a new study shows that first impressions not only lasts but also counts more then we first imagined. The article is based on a Canadian study led by Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa:

Lindgaard and her team presented volunteers with the briefest glimpses of web pages previously rated as being either easy on the eye or particularly jarring, and asked them to rate the websites on a sliding scale of visual appeal. Even though the images flashed up for just 50 milliseconds, roughly the duration of a single frame of standard television footage, their verdicts tallied well with judgements made after a longer period of scrutiny.

We have in a previous post talked about this sort quick test before, usually referred to as a 5-second-usabilty-test (though this study shortens it even further).

There are several things that spring to mind when I read this article. First it is interesting to see how much the individual user will weigh the first impression. If the first impression is good but the site later turns out to be a bit anti-user-friendly or maybe even error-prone, the user in many cases are willing to overlook these difficulties and errors because of the good first impression:

People enjoy being right, so continuing to use a website that gave a good first impression helps to ‘prove’ to themselves that they made a good initial decision.

What makes a good first impression? Of key issues is mentioned that the amount of graphics on the front page should be strictly limited – maybe one single eye-catching image will do just fine. Lately I’ve seen many websites re-structuring their front page to have a simple and clear message with maybe one lifestyle-like image in the top left part of the page. But there is still many bad examples out there. See for example the front pages of the European Unions website, FLSmidth, Grundfos or Lloyds TSB. Then compare them to Dell, General Electric or Writely.

Of cause there can be several good reasons why a website might want to have a lot of information on the front page – but there are no good excuses for just throwing it in there like it was a notice board in the product managers office.

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3 Responses to “Web Users Judge Sites Instantly”

  1. Jesper Rønn-Jensen Says:

    As I read the article, the ultra fast first impressions regard only “visual appeal”. There’s no clue here as of this will last to find information, or do stuff (solve tasks) on a given website.

    Being visually appealing is also known to make a difference in dating (especially — I presume — when boy meets girl). A good first impression is probably always “visually appealing”.

    A pleasing visual appeal will create more tolerant users.

    Great article that really gives me something to think about.

  2. Jesper Rønn-Jensen Says:

    Just a quick roundup, as this story continues to get attention around the web.


    From what I can tell, the researchers didn’t find any actual evidence that users will leave a site after 50 milliseconds if they find a site visually unappealing. The problem with Lindgaard’s conclusions is that the research didn’t study how users behave when they’re trying to accomplish their tasks.

    For example, CraigsList is a site that has tested very well with our users. Users loved the site. Why? Not because the site was visually appealing. CraigsList succeeded because the content surpassed their users’ expectations. The site makes its users happy despite what some might consider poor aesthetics. And none of the users left the site because of a “bad design.”

    In all of our research studying user behavior, we see that visual aesthetics play a role in users’ judgments — but they take a backseat to the site’s content.

    While we’re at it, today Bokardo published a post about visually appealing websites “On Visual Appeal”

  3. spectorbrain.com » Blog Archive » The Unknown Blogger and First Impressions Says:

    […] I know that this is an oversimplified list, but it makes the necessary points. Before you design a blog or quickly grab an available template, think about whom you are and who you want your audience to be. Remember that people judge websites almost instantly upon initial viewing. In the case of blogs, that decision will influence how your readers speak to you or if they want to speak to you at all. Tags: usability, first impression, blog, design, content, author, comments […]