50ms To Make a Good ImpressionPatrick Lannigan, May 2009
In March of 2006, the Human-Oriented Technology Lab at Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, released a study that concluded that website visitors make a decision (as to whether they are in the "right place") in as little as 50 milliseconds. This conclusion supports the theory that humans can initiate a response before the stimuli have been interpreted by the neocortex. This is a remarkable conclusion—but not the first such study that supports this theory.
So what does this mean for web designers and people responsible for corporate communications? Plenty. As an example, it underlines the importance of aesthetic, but not graphically challenging, design in a website. It supports my belief that a user should be able to land on any page within your website and recognize, within a sub-second time frame, what it is that you do. As such, taglines like "Empowering your Business" are virtually meaningless compared to more accurate descriptions like "Better Banking Software," which is a tagline I use on every webpage our banking software company has created.
The abstract to the paper reads as follows ...
Three studies were conducted to ascertain how quickly people form an opinion about webpage visual appeal. In the first study, participants twice rated the visual appeal of web homepages presented for 500ms each. The second study replicated the first, but participants also rated each webpage on seven specific design dimensions. Visual appeal was found to be closely related to most of these. Study 3 again replicated the 500ms condition as well as adding a 50ms condition using the same stimuli to determine whether the first impression may be interpreted as a ‘mere exposure effect’ (Zajonc 1980). Throughout, visual appeal ratings were highly correlated from one phase to the next as were the correlations between the 50ms and 500ms conditions. Thus, visual appeal can be assessed within 50ms, suggesting that web designers have about 50 ms to make a good first impression.
There is a relatively good summary (but not the white paper itself) here.
Email Patrick Lannigan at lannigan at gmail dot com for more information
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