Love at first sight!
You must have heard the famous phrase; first impression is the last impression. To reword it a little differently first impression leaves a lasting impression. Surely, it is not only the first impression that lets us earthlings decide how we perceive a myriad of mundane things, or does it?
A question that has always come across my mind while spending time on designing anything and everything I want to present (especially online) is: what role do aesthetics play in forming “first” impressions? How important are aesthetics besides good content on a website? Some websites have the best and most useful information a person can ask for, but often the way information is presented leaves a user wondering whether the information is even credible or not. Good design can be a very important consideration for many who themselves like to take care of the minutest details while self representing online and offline alike. I think most people do admire good design even without realizing it and maybe we are all aesthete to some extent.
In understanding the importance of first impressions, I would like to cite a study conducted by researchers at Carleton University in Ontario, Canada, according to which first impressions do in fact matter greatly. According to the study, first impressions about a webpage are formed in as little time as the first fifty milliseconds i.e. 1/20th of a second (Lindgaard, 2006). Therefore, visitors make judgments about the site’s “visual appeal” very fast. These first impressions, whether positive or negative carry over till the duration of the person’s stay on the webpage. This phenomenon is known as the Halo effect.
Due to the Halo effect, first impressions are so important that they can greatly affect perceptions such as credibility and usability and thus buying decisions in an online business. Besides other factors, a visually appealing, well designed website can help organizations as well as individuals succeed in the fiercely competitive online world where every page competes for a click. An aesthetically pleasing web-design is thus very crucial in ensuring a lasting good impression.
Now lets see what aesthetics are all about. Wikipedia (Wikipedia to the rescue again) defines aesthetics as “a branch of philosophy dealing with the nature of beauty, art, and taste, and with the creation and appreciation of beauty”. Some believe that it is about seeing the world in new ways.
Granted, that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, and what may be pleasing to one may not be attractive at all for someone else. But then how do businesses especially dotcoms have their websites designed to ensure that their page is liked by a majority of people? For businesses, the aim might be to maximize sales and attract and retain visitors based on effective site organization, service and a range of other factors including site design that is simple, elegant and aesthetically pleasing.
So is there a gold standard for the “best” web design? Not necessarily, but there is bound to be some agreed upon design principles which when applied, attract users to a site. There are certain color combinations that the designers choose as being generally acceptable and pleasing to all. For example, what makes the default colors of Gmail light blue and white? I understand the golden rule of good web design to be simplicity. There is nothing more attractive than simply designed websites. A color scheme that is simple and corresponds to what is available in the nature seems to be the best recipe for success. Don’t get me wrong when I emphasize on simplicity. A website selling hip hop party gear is bound to be a little funky, but generally, simplicity is the golden rule.
As a co-instructor in an online MAET course, I had the opportunity to evaluate a range of course websites. I was impressed by the quality of work that most of the students produced. However, the websites that stood out were the ones that had a good choice of neutral colors, had a visually appealing interface and that displayed content in an organized manner.
I have a strong conviction that often without even realizing we try to bring the outside world and the natural colors into our online world. Even though we work in a virtual world and display information virtually on our screens, but we naturally get inspired by the beautiful work of art in nature, outside, everywhere. Starting from the soothing light blue sky to the white snow and green leaves, to the night sky that is dark with white twinkling stars, it is all around us and in us. We use it every day when we choose the black colored Times New Roman font to make our work aesthetically pleasing and organized.
It is hard to deny the importance of aesthetics and the role of first impressions in designing and presenting information. So love at the first site does turn out to be a popular way for users to judge websites whose attention is ever harder to get in the vast world of the internet.
Lindgaard G., Fernandes G. J., Dudek C. & Brown, J., (2006). Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression!”, Behaviour and Information Technology, 25:115 – 126
Halo Effect: http://www.economist.com/businessfinance/management/displaystory.cfm?story_id=14299211