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You Canít Drink An Ugly Site Pretty

Jason Lee Miller
Staff Writer
Published: 2006-03-03

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About half a blink, one-twentieth of a second, is the amount of time you have to outdo your competitors online. Internet users only need 50 milliseconds to make a judgment about your website and that 50 milliseconds colors the rest of their experience at www.yoursite.com.

According to Dr. Gitte Lindgaard, who measured the amount of time it took people to make a decisive judgment at Carleton University in Ottowa, whether that first impression is positive or negative can influence all subsequent behavior, domino style. That first impression can even outweigh the usability of the website.

"Even if a website is highly usable and provides very useful information presented in a logical arrangement, this may fail to impress a user whose first impression of the site was negative," said Lindgaard, who was surprised to find it possible that people saw anything at all in less than 500 milliseconds.

And vice versa, if the first impression is positive, then small usability issues may be overlooked. Of course that doesn't mean a site can be all beauty and no brains. Annoyance and frustration can be even more deadly than ugliness.

"We're looking for a site to be clean, pleasant and symmetrical," writes Enquiro's Gord Hotchkiss. "We're looking for proper use of screen real estate and balance."

The goal then, is seeking to maximize "pure aesthetic appeal" while optimizing a website for more practical factors. Another scholar substitutes the words "holistic" and "analytic:"

There clearly is an interplay between our emotional reaction to a webpage, and our conscious thought process. "Consumers apply both holistic (emotional) and analytic (cognitive) judgment in the decision to buy a product." So that feeling you evoke in users through a "clean, professional design" can have a halo effect on their buying judgments (Fogg 2003).

So what is good "holistic" medicine for an ugly website? Fortunately for the colorblind among us, Lindgaard provides three examples of webpages with the lowest and highest visual appeal. The guideline appears to be to avoid business, brightness, and multi-colored neon print. Think muted tones, consistency, and symmetry.

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About the Author:
Jason L. Miller is a staff writer for WebProNews covering technology and business.

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