Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Beauty Over Brains: How your website is judged in a matter of milliseconds...

The bad news: Don't expect people to stick around if you've got an ugly ass, cluttered website. Not even for a second.

Researchers have found that it only takes 50 milliseconds for people to make up their mind about a site. That means that most people have already jumped to a conclusion about the content of a website before reading a single word...if they even get that far.

Here's more from

We all know that first impressions count, but this study shows that the brain can make flash judgements almost as fast as the eye can take in the information.

The discovery came as a surprise to some experts. "My colleagues believed it would be impossible to really see anything in less than 500 milliseconds," says Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa...

...Lindgaard and her team presented volunteers with the briefest glimpses of web pages...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.

The lasting effect of first impressions is known to psychologists as the 'halo effect': if you can snare people with an attractive design, they are more likely to overlook other minor faults with the site, and may rate its actual content (such as this article, for example) more favourably.

This is because of 'cognitive bias', Lindgaard explains. 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. The phenomenon pervades our society; even doctors have been shown to follow their initial hunches, Lindgaard says, relying heavily on a patient's most immediately obvious symptom when making a diagnosis. "It's awfully scary stuff, but the tendency to jump to conclusions is far more widespread than we realize," she says.

And what's the good news? There's a few simple things that you can do to keep people from hitting that 'back' button:

...the amount of graphics on the page should be strictly limited, perhaps to a single eye-catching image.

These days, enlightened web users want to see a "puritan" approach...It's about getting information across in the quickest, simplest way possible. For this reason, many commercial websites now follow a fairly regular set of rules. For example, westerners tend to look at the top-left corner of a page first, so that's where the company logo should go. And most users also expect to see a search function in the top right.

...the other golden rule is to make sure that your web pages load quickly, otherwise your customers might not stick around long enough to make that coveted first impression. "That can be the difference between big business and no business,"


-A book about the first two seconds of looking...

Web Pages That Suck -'Learn usability and good web design by looking at bad web design.'

'What Makes A Great Website?'

'Web surfers decide a site's worth in a fraction of a second: study'

'50 Milliseconds Is All You've Got'

'Spotting Web Pages That Suck'

The English Guy: '50ms To Judge A Site'


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