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The Science Behind Great Web Design – Part I


Drew McDowell

Your website provides potential customers with a first impression of your business. While you no doubt know how important first impressions are when meeting people, you may be surprised to learn, when it comes to your website, first impressions are made extremely quickly, are hugely influenced by design, and have far-reaching implications for your business.

First impressions are made in 50 milliseconds

A recent study[1] found that it takes users a mere 1/20th of a second to judge the visual appeal of your website. This suggests that we, as web designers, have about 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression.

94% of a user’s first impression of a website is design-related

Based on the results of another study[2], there are two factors that lead users to reject or mistrust websites. Design-related complaints account for 94% of feedback, while actual content accounts for only 6%. So if you want users to stick around to read your content, first make sure it’s presented in an appealing manner.

A more in-depth look at content’s effectiveness will be featured in next week’s blog

First impressions have a measurable and long-lasting influence on user-satisfaction

Your website sets expectations for your business that have a strong impact on users’ satisfaction as a customer. Studies have found that favorable product expectations boost subjective usability ratings. In one such study[3], participants who had read a positive review of a product gave the product significantly better post-experiment ratings than did the groups who read negative reviews or no reviews. Similarly, research by two economists[4] illustrated how first-impressions can last for years, by examining the impact of players’ draft order in the NBA. Sports fans take note. Results showed that teams granted more playing time to their most highly drafted players and retained them longer, even after controlling for player’s on-court performance. This means that players’ initial perceived value still influenced their perceived value five years later, regardless of actual value (statistical performance, injuries, etc.). Thus, your product’s initial perceived value could have an effect on its perceived value for years to come.

What does this mean for you?

The importance of great web design can’t be overstated. A well designed website evokes an instantaneous emotional response from potential customers, drives them to read more of the content you’ve written for them, and leaves a long lasting impression of your business in general.

Next week, Mark will explore more studies that show specific design strategies that users respond to favorably.


  1. Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression! – Behaviour & Information Technology
    Volume 25, Issue 2, 2006 – Gitte Lindgaarda, Gary Fernandesa, Cathy Dudeka & J. Browna – Taylor Francis Online
  2. Trust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites – CHI 2004 Volume 6, Number 1 – Elizabeth Sillence, Pam Briggs, Lesley Fishwick, Peter Harris
  3. Too good to be bad: Favorable product expectations boost subjective usability ratings – Interacting with Computers, Volume 23, Issue 4, July 2011 – Eeva Raita, Antti Oulasvirta
  4. Sunk Costs in the NBA: Why Draft Order Affects Playing Time and Survival in Professional Basketball – Administrative Science Quarterly, 40 – Barry M. Staw, Ha Hoang

Further reading: First Impressions Matter: The Importance of Great Visual Design

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