January 18th, 2006
What is the smallest amount of time it takes users to form impressions of web sites?
In a recent study described in the scientific journal Nature, Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa describes her research examining how long it takes users to form impressions about the visual aesthetics of a web site. From the Nature article:
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.
(To get an idea of how long 50 milliseconds really is, take a look at an experiment comparing Bank of America’s home page for 50 milliseconds versus 500 milliseconds.)
All of our research examining users’ snap judgments is consistent with Dr. Lindgaard’s findings. We’ve seen in testing that users make important judgments very quickly when they arrive at a web page. That’s one of the reasons we use 5-second tests as our primary technique for evaluating users’ first impressions.
While I agree that users make very quick judgments about a site’s visual appeal, I disagree somewhat with the implications suggested by the study’s researchers:
Unless the first impression is favourable, visitors will be out of your site before they even know that you might be offering more than your competitors,” Lindgaard warns.
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.Tweet