Recent research has shown that people can pass judgement on a stimulus after having been exposed to it for only 50 milliseconds (Lindgaard, Dudek, Fernandes & Brown, 2006). In other words, users may make a judgement as to the quality of a website almost immediately.
Feelings and first impressions have a big role to play in determining our behaviour. Take a typical user’s decision-making process for example. The first page that user sees (whether it be the home page or some other page on the site) is crucial, since it is the first contact the user has with a product or a company.
Evidence shows that most people react by leaving a site if it doesn’t immediately fulfill their expectations, meet their needs, or if it is too complicated. Users may quickly decide to leave a site for a number of reasons. Nielsen (Alertbox, August 25, 2003) puts it this way:
– If the site is hard to use, we leave;
– If the homepage doesn’t manage to establish what the company has to offer, or what we can accomplish on the site, we leave;
– If we get lost on a site, we leave;
– If the information is hard to read, or if it doesn’t answer our questions, we leave.
Furthermore, if the site isn’t visually appealing, or if it doesn’t manage to get our attention immediately and evoke positive emotions in us (sympathy, for example), we leave.
User interfaces must meet certain design criteria if they are to generate positive emotions: aesthetics, colour use, organisational structure and the choice of media used to attract the users’ attention, to name a few. If you’re interested in a more in-depth description of these heuristics, you may wish to review the following article by Alistair Sutcliffe, which is very interesting:
A site’s attractiveness can definitely have an impact on the user’s decision to explore the site further or to leave it immediately.
We’ve all been there. My experience was with trying to plan a little trip on the Web. The first site I visited was nothing but text; flashing objects everywhere; but not a single photo to make me dream – what a shame !. I barely had time to lift my head before my pointer was searching for the Back button. I couldn’t get back to my search engine fast enough to find a competitive site.
There are; however, moments when the user’s goals are stronger than anything. I remember jumping some pretty big hurdles to buy some little technological item at its advertised “Low Low Price”; a savings I wouldn’t have gotten through another site, despite its being easier to use and more attractive. My goal and my motivation (buying the product at a better price) prevailed over the poor visuals and the difficulty I had navigating the site. While we’re on the subject, you may want to take a look at this blog, which was written by my colleague Marcio Leibovitch on August 23, 2006. This entry discusses the paradox of certain products being adopted because they meet the user’s real need, despite having an interface that is less than ideal.
Let me close, then, by saying that aesthetics and usability are only some of the many factors (context and motivation) that drive users’ searching and buying behaviours, but that doesn’t make them any less important.