Christine Perfetti

Christine PerfettiChristine is one of the most requested instructors at User Interface Engineering, and has worked with dozens of companies on their toughest web design problems. She's regularly a top-rated presenter and keynote speaker at conferences all over the world.

Christine is responsible for User Interface Engineering's business strategy initiatives. She manages UIE's events and training business development and helps to ensure coordination of affiliates.

Christine's posts:

Branding and the Million Dollar Homepage

January 25th, 2006 by Christine Perfetti

This week, marketing expert Seth Godin, has chimed in with his thoughts on the Million Dollar Home Page.

The Million Dollar Homepage is an innovative site created by college student Alex Tew to help raise money for his college education. Alex’s business model involved selling the one million pixels displayed on the home page for $1 per pixel. The business experiment turned out to be a huge success — Alex sold all of the ad space.

A piece of the Million Dollar Homepage

In his post, Seth is impressed with Alex Tew’s strategy but is bewildered by all of the sites attempting to duplicate his success:

When I see the 10,000 copycats out there, all I can do is sigh. Why do they believe this is a new trend? Why do they think it’s going to become an important part of the marketing mix, and are they really so naive to believe that they, and they alone, will earn even more than Alex did?

I agree. I have serious doubts any of the sites trying to duplicate the concept will be successful. The Million Dollar Homepage was a novel advertising campaign that generated attention for many of the site’s initial advertisers because people wanted to see who was willing to participate in this experiment. But I find it hard to believe the site generates much value for advertisers now that all of the pixels have been sold.

The concept fails as a marketing strategy for a few reasons. Online branding is not just about exposing potential customers to the organization’s logo. We’ve seen in our research studies that indirect messaging such as logos rarely works effectively unless users are repeatedly exposed to them. Plus, the Million Dollar Homepage is so overloaded with images and impressions, it’s unlikely users will pay attention to one particular logo.

Successful online branding also involves a user forming an emotional association (such as a feeling of excitement or happiness) about an organization or product. In the case of the Million Dollar Homepage, customers are exposed to a page of cluttered advertisements. There isn’t a real relationship or emotional association being built.

Finally, advertisements tend to work best when they are in some way related to the task users are trying to accomplish when they visit a site. Without understanding the users’ context when they arrive at the Million Dollar Homepage, is any ad on the page guaranteed to resonate with them? I don’t think so.

While the Million Dollar Homepage is an innovative idea that paid off for the site’s creator, it really hasn’t paved the way for a new approach to successful advertising.

Snap Decisions on the Web

January 18th, 2006 by Christine Perfetti

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.

Top Five Articles of 2005

January 11th, 2006 by Christine Perfetti

As we begin the new year, UIE’s research team spends time examining what topics areas seem to resonate most with our readers. Here is a list of the top 5 UIE articles readers emailed to each other in 2005. If you haven’t read them all, here’s a chance to see what you missed:

1. 5-Second Tests: Measuring Your Site’s Content Pages
How can design teams be confident their content pages are understandable to users? How does a team ensure they’ve designed content pages that communicate the essential information effectively? A simple usability testing technique can help design teams quickly measure how a content page performs with users. We call it the 5-Second Test.

2. What Makes a Design Seem ‘Intuitive’?
An intuitive interface doesn’t happen by accident. It happens when one of two specific conditions are met. In this article, Jared describes the critical relationship between current knowledge (what the user knows when they encounter the design) and target knowledge (what the user needs to know to accomplish their goal), showing the two conditions that lead to an interface users will perceive as intuitive.

3. Testing Web Sites with Eye-Tracking
Thanks to some usability studies we conducted using an eye-tracking system, we now have real evidence of where users actually look when they view a web page.

4. The KJ-Technique: A Group Process for Establishing Priorities
UIE’s researchers have one favorite technique for helping designers collaborate better with each other: The KJ-Method. UIE routinely uses the KJ-Method to help teams find patterns in large amounts of unorganized data. It quickly helps groups establish design priorities and reach consensus.

5. Seven Common Usability Testing Mistakes
As we work with teams all over the globe, there are mistakes that we see frequently. These mistakes are very easy to prevent — if only the team members realized they were making them. Here are seven of the most common mistakes.

Is Unexcelled Food a Good Thing?

January 4th, 2006 by Christine Perfetti

I’m curious how many people are interested in eating at a restaurant that serves unexcelled food? Last weekend, I drove by the Century House Restaurant in Peabody, Massachusetts. What struck me was the sign displayed prominently in front of the restaurant: The Century House: Unexcelled Food.

Century House's Unexcelled Food

I’ll admit I’ve never eaten at the Century House before. But now that I’ve seen how they choose to describe their food, I’m not all that eager to try out the restaurant anytime soon. Even when I visited the Century House web site, the designers chose to display the ‘Unexcelled Food’ description prominently on the home page.

If the designers of the Century House’s site had tested the copy, would users have found the description persuasive? So far, I’ve asked more than a dozen people what their impressions are and many assumed unexcelled was a negative term meaning that the restaurant’s food was poor or ‘not excelling’. Actually, the term has a very positive meaning: not capable of being improved on.

While the copywriters intended to persuade users to dine at the Century House, the words didn’t seem all that persuasive to the people I surveyed. This is why it’s so important for design teams to test out the effectiveness of the site’s copy with their users. By testing your own site, it really brings home the huge importance of words on the web.

Yahoo’s Frustration with Focus Groups

December 20th, 2005 by Christine Perfetti

In a recent article from Business Week, Shoot the Focus Group, Yahoo’s chief marketing officer discusses how focus groups rarely yield valuable information about Yahoo’s user needs.

Yahoo’s frustration with focus groups isn’t that surprising. At UIE, we hardly ever use focus groups because they just don’t work very well at uncovering user needs. The biggest problem: what users say in a focus group rarely matches what they do in a real-life setting. Users’ opinions about a site or product are very rarely consistent with how they behave when they actually interact with it.

We still find that usability testing is the best way to gather input from users. Nothing replaces the power of observing users interact with a site.

5-Second Tests Don’t Tell Us Everything

December 9th, 2005 by Christine Perfetti

I recently discussed how we use the 5-second test technique to gather users’ initial impressions of designs. While we’ve found this technique to be an essential part of our usability toolbox, it still has limits in what it can tell us.

Since my first posting, many readers have asked whether they can use the 5-second test to evaluate their home page designs. While the technique is great way to get a glimpse into what happens during the first moments a user sees a page, it hasn’t given us valuable results when we’ve looked at home pages.

We’ve found that a 5-second test works best when we use it on content pages designed with a single primary purpose. However, a site’s home page typically serves the needs of several audiences, each with their own set of tasks. As a result, each of these different users see different things on the page, depending on their context and immediate goals. We’ve found that other techniques, such as traditional usability tests and inherent value tests do a better job of measuring the effectiveness of the home page.

In case you missed it, a few months back, I wrote an article about the 5-second test methodology, outlining how we set up these types of tests and when they are most effective.

Enticing Users with Content

November 29th, 2005 by Christine Perfetti

We’ve been spending a lot of time looking at how designs can best entice users with their content. Specifically, how can design teams get users to pay attention to their site’s valuable information when that content isn’t necessarily what the users are seeking?

As we’ve tested sites to see what strategies designs use to entice users with content, we weren’t surprised that the sites frequently feature advertisements and promotions for important content on the home page. The rationale for this design choice is clear. For users, the home page is the entry point for the site, so it makes sense to include content to entice them right away.

Users encounter featured content on the home page all the time. For example, users who visit Citizens Bank’s site, see an advertisement for home equity credit prominently on their home page. This one advertisement alone takes up approximately 50% of the real estate on the page.

Click to see Citizens Bank home page
Citizens Bank home page

Users who visit Merrill Lynch’s site see an advertisement for the company’s new Business Investor Account.

Click to see Merrill Lynch home page
Citizens Bank home page

One of the most surprising findings from our research is that users very rarely click on featured content on the home page. Why? Because when we watch users look for content on sites, they’re on a specific mission. Many of the site’s users might actually be interested in the accounts and credit lines available at Citizens Bank or Merrill Lynch, but they aren’t interested in that information — or looking for it — until after they’ve accomplished what they came to the site to do.

This is where the concept of seducible moments play a role. By observing users in usability tests, we’ve seen that there is a specific moment where designers have the best chance of enticing a user to pay attention to a promotion or advertisement. These moments typically come after the user has completed their task on the site. Jared wrote an excellent article about seducible moments, looking in detail at how Sears and Dell tackled the problem of enticing users to their featured content.

How have you had to deal with enticing your users with your important content? Have you taken advantage of seducible moments? We would like to hear what strategies you’ve tried and how they’ve worked for you.

Measuring a Site’s “Blink” Response

November 15th, 2005 by Christine Perfetti

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.]

What UI10 Attendees Are Reading

November 8th, 2005 by Christine Perfetti

Last month, more than 350 designers, information architects, and usability professionals joined us for User Interface 10 in Cambridge, MA. One of the best parts of the conference was that we had the opportunity to learn what topics and issues are most important to design teams.

At the conference, our bookseller brought all of the latest books on usability, product development, web design, development techniques, and user interface design. The most popular books were:

Call to Action: Secret Formulas Improve Online Results
Our good friends and User Interface 10 Conference speakers, Bryan and Jeffrey Eisenberg, have written an excellent book describing Persuasion Architecture, their methodology for convincing users to take action and help meet site’s business objectives.

Eric Meyer on CSS: Mastering the Language of Web Design
The always brilliant and witty Eric Meyer provides a practical, hands-on book guiding readers through several CSS projects that teach designers about each of the different aspects of CSS.

Ambient Findability
Peter Morville has written a wonderful new book that offers a great discussion of how we find things, whether in the real world or online.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi gave a wonderfully received spotlight plenary at UI10, outlining the main factors that contribute to a flow experience. In this seminar book, Mihaly introduces the concept of flow, describing the optimal psychological state associated with high levels of satisfaction and fulfillment.

The Zen of CSS Design: Visual Enlightening for the Web
We’ve been huge fans of the CSS Zen Garden site, so it comes as no surprise that we love Dave Shea’s and Molly Holzschlag’s book. It’s a great way to see the power of CSS and how you can solve a myriad of complex problems with straightforward techniques.

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference
In his bestselling book, Malcolm Gladwell popularized the idea that there’s a key point where products, messages, and behaviors can spread just like viruses: the tipping point. At UIE, this book has provided us with huge insights into how word-of-mouth marketing works.

We have all of these great resources on our bookshelves at UIE. I highly recommend you check them out.

Still looking for UI10 Volunteers

September 19th, 2005 by Christine Perfetti

User Interface 10 is only three weeks away and we’re just now putting the final touches on the program. We’ll have more than 350 attendees from all over the world. There are folks coming from Africa, Europe, Asia, and North America.

Would you like to join us? I’m still currently looking for volunteers who are available to assist us throughout the full five days of the conference. You will be asked to arrive at the conference in the afternoon on Sunday, October 9th to help us set up for conference check-in and the Welcome Reception.

Throughout the main four days of the conference, volunteers will be assigned to full-day seminars and short talks to assist conference speakers with their needs. In addition, you will have at least one free day to attend conference sessions (probably more) for free. We’ll make every effort to accommodate your preference for which sessions you’d like to attend.

You will be responsible for paying for all travel and hotel accommodations. But we’ll provide breakfast and lunch Monday through Thursday of the conference.

If you’re interested in volunteering, or if you have any questions, please send your replies directly to uiconf@uie.com. I’ll give priority to full-time students and those of you available to help out for the full conference, from Sunday, October 9th through Thursday, October 13th.