What would you do if you only had 50 milliseconds to make a first impression? Would you try to impress by looking good? Perhaps you would you use a witty remark or an intelligent statement? First impressions are happening all the time, all around us. We make them ourselves without even realizing it.
First impressions can be applied to more than just people; they also guide our Internet experiences. They are a critical component to our understanding of the user interface and corporate websites. Believe it or not, every user that visits your site forms a first impression within 50 milliseconds. These evaluations occur before the image of your homepage has registered in their mind – it is a purely unconscious, physiological reaction. And these first impressions have a significant impact on whether or not reader will engage with your website.
Beauty or Words – Which Do We Notice First?
Both the content and the appearance of your site have a significant impact on the reader’s experience: they both provide information about your company. The design, or aesthetic elements however, are actually the first to be evaluated, making them the most important part of web design. These elements include things such as balance, symmetry, emphasis, harmony, proportion, rhythm, and unity.
The subconscious mind takes in these elements, and develops either a positive or a negative emotional appraisal. Rational appraisal and decision-making do come along eventually, but this first impression is what determines whether the user will have a positive emotional experience.
If the first impression is positive, the reader will likely downplay, or even ignore any faults they find in the website. For example, if your site is lacking a bit in content but has excellent aesthetics, these aesthetic qualities will make up for any unsuccessful content. On the other hand, a negative first impression can cast a shadow over even the best of websites, and is difficult to reverse.
Research on first impressions of websites provides corporate web designers with the knowledge they need to ensure that their readers develop positive first impressions. While all aspects of web design are important, web designers should take particular care to create an aesthetically pleasing site. They can actually test these first impressions of their website. All they need to do is flash the homepage for 50 milliseconds. A split-second reaction carries a powerful punch.
For information on impression formation and websites:
Lindgaard, G., Fernandes, G., Dudek, C., & Brown, J. (2006) Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression! Behaviour and Information Technology, 25(2), 115-126.
For information on aesthetic design elements:
Beardsley M. (1982). The aesthetic point of view. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.