Corporate Eye

Beautiful or Usable – What Really Matters in Corporate Web Design?

halo effectGenerating an emotional response in the target audience is the most effective way to build a brand[1]. The corporate communication methods that are successful are those that can generate emotion[2], making emotional engagement the leading priority in corporate web design.

Website design is a combination of 5 elements:

  • Usability – How easy is it for the reader to find the information they need?
  • Content – What information is the website presenting?
  • Aesthetics – What design elements make up the appearance of the website?
  • Customisation – What is unique about the website?
  • Engagement – What is the intensity of the reader’s mental and emotional experience?

While all elements of website design generate an emotional response to some degree, aesthetics and usability seem to be the most important. Research suggests that this is due to a psychological phenomenon called the Halo Effect [3].

The Halo Effect occurs when one characteristic (i.e. attractiveness) dominates how others perceive a particular person.  In other words, it is the tendency for a positive quality to spill over to other qualities as well. For example, one might assume that an attractive person is also highly intelligent with a great sense of humor and an impressive golf game—merely because they are attractive.

When it comes to corporate website design, the Halo Effect plays an interesting role. Aesthetics and usability each have Halo Effects of their own. More specifically, if the user deems the website attractive, then they are more likely to view the usability of the website favorably, even if the usability is poor. As for usability, if the user finds the website particularly easy to navigate (good usability), they will automatically deem the services and content to be high quality as well, regardless of whether this is true[4].

These two Halo Effects do not occur in tandem; they are dependent upon the user’s goals and expectations when visiting the website. For instance, if your product or service is one that attracts a determined, goal-oriented user who knows exactly what they are looking for, then the user is more likely to focus on usability. But if your product or service attracts curious browsers, then aesthetics are the most important salient aspect of their experience.

The presence of these Halo Effects reveals the need to go beyond the well-seasoned advice of the common phrase  “know your audience.” The phrase must be expanded to ““know your audience’s goals and expectations.” Why are they visiting your site? And what do they expect to find?

Once you know the characteristics and needs of your target audience, you can take advantage of this Halo Effect. Whether your audience calls for you to pay special attention to usability or aesthetics, the effects can be quite impressive.

By understanding your audience and adapting your website to appeal to their characteristics, readers will engage with your website, which is the ultimate success.


  1. Cialdini, R. B. (2007). Influence: Science and practice. Pearson Education, Inc.
  2. Mehta, A. & Purvis, S.C. (2006). Reconsidering recall and emotion in advertising. Journal of Advertising Research, 49-56
  3. Asch, S. E. (1946). Forming impressions of personality. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 41, 258-290.
  4. Hartman, J., Sutcliffe, A., & De Angeli, A. (2008) Towards a theory of user judgment of aesthetics and user interface quality. ACM Transactions on Computer-Human Interaction (TOCHI), 15(4), 278 – 304.