Measuring a Site’s “Blink” Response

Christine Perfetti

November 15th, 2005

I just recently finished reading Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Malcolm’s main premise is that people frequently develop important impressions in the first seconds of an experience. He asserts that the human brain works at lightning speed to come to snap judgments about information.

Malcolm’s argument is consistent with what we’ve often believed may be a weakness of traditional usability tests: we may not be accurately uncovering the users’ first impressions of the content. In most tests, users give us their feedback only after completing a task on the site, once they’ve had some time to consciously process their impressions. But is this really how users make their first judgment of a web site in a real-life setting? According to Blink’s argument, probably not.

To more accurately assess users’ first impressions of designs, we’ve developed what we call the 5-Second Test. The main purpose of this variant of traditional usability testing is to assess a user’s Blink response to a site’s design and content.

This technique has helped us to collect valuable feedback from users in a very short amount of time. A few months back, I wrote an article about the 5-second test methodology, outlining how we set up these types of tests.

Have you come up with any techniques to measure the first impressions of users? How have they worked for you?

[Editors Update: Esteban, our friend from Factor Humano in Argentina reminds us that a Spanish version of Christine's article is available.]

2 Responses to “Measuring a Site’s “Blink” Response”

  1. Enric Naval Says:

    In our cases, we hadn’t what we could call a “technique”. Basically, showing the page to the user and asking them what they thought worked quite well.

    We just ask the user for their first impression after opening the page and before they start the actual usability test. We can ask them for a on-the-fly critic of the general design before telling them about the tasks they have to do.

    Of course, users may accept temporaly an ugly design and a bad first impression, as long as they know that they can achieve their most important goals on your page, or they can achieve them better than in other pages.

    It helps if you asure them that you will pay a designer to make it better :)

    The first impression is very important, but once we are past the first impression, the funcionality, including whether they can do their tasks fastly, weigths so much so the first impression pales in comparison. Of course, this must mean that your page actually offers something worthy to the user or the first impression will just wear out after a while and they will leave :(

    That’s why we didn’t make separate test for first impressions. We had scarce resources and it was “cheaper” to make a first impression test before each usability test, even if this meant that our design sucked for a while because we hadn’t enough input from users because we only did usability tests once in a while.

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