|Visual Appeal and Usability|
Allocating resources for maximum impact
Timely for me. I just did a one-user test on a site... Didn't need a second user after watching several major fails. At the same time, I'm unhappy with how the site looks. Obviously, critical usability issues need to be first priority, but at what point do you start
Interesting study that looks at the importance of visual appeal on perceptions of usability. It turns out the "pretty" site wins on every metric, even when researchers tried to match usability between the pretty and ugly sites.
|Results indicate that first impressions are most influenced by the visual appeal of the site. Users gave high usability and interest ratings to sites with high appeal and low usability and interest ratings to sites with low appeal. |
Obviously, the solution is to make beautiful sites that have great usability, but resources are not infinite. So the study raises a few questions
- do you allocate more resources to looking good in light of the study?
- does this mean that I need to integrate aesthetics testing?
- How do you iterate between design for usability and design for visual appeal?
Some thoughts - among those who do opinion studies with users, it is almost cliche that the interviewee will not (and and actually cannot) report the actual facts of their experience. They give their subjective impressions, which has some value but always needs to be coupled with testing data.
For example, when testing different fonts for readability, a similar split comes up at times. The font that most users "feel" is more readable may often test lower in an actual readability and comprehension test. This kind of result has a pretty clear analogy in this usability study.
But having a site perceived as highly usable may carry another advantage. The visitor is more likely to consider a usability bug to be their problem, rather than the website's problem - in other words, they will work a bit harder at whatever task they are trying to accomplish during their visit.
I don't think this study will cause my clients to change how they work. They will still study actual data from website use and address the perceived usability challenges. We may consider the "look" a bit more when data shows a problem, but I can't even consider what "aesthetics testing" might look like - it's such a subjective area.
[edited by: tedster at 2:23 am (utc) on Oct. 3, 2009]
|The font that most users "feel" is more readable may often test lower in an actual readability |
I've seen that - most older readers prefer serif fonts, but actually do better in objective tests with sans serif. Ditto for fully justified text if I'm not mistaken. But that's sort of the issue - is it better to have a font that people believe is readable, or one that actually is?
In that case, you can't always do both, because of ingrained mental habits.
|more likely to consider a usability bug to be their problem |
Have you read Christopher Alexander's A Pattern Language and The Timeless Way of Building? Those really changed the way look at every space I enter and a lot of design issues (BTW, I am not a good designer myself, but I can recognize it).
One of the things he found with his studies on architecture is that when he asked people what that thought of a design idea, there was a lot of disagreement. People would think, say, high ceilings were nice because of some theory they had about high ceilings.
When he asked people to describe how a given space made them *feel*, he got extremely high agreement from subjects regardless of theoretical attitudes on high ceilings (for example).
I'm not exactly sure how that relates here, but I think there is a type of "aesthetics" testing that can work and can get to the heart of what's going on functionally as well.
I suppose in the case of a website, it would be a matter of quickly showing pages, but not actually having the user interact and trying instead to just get their Blink reaction.
|I suppose in the case of a website, it would be a matter of quickly showing pages, but not actually having the user interact and trying instead to just get their Blink reaction. |
The new Jakob Nielson column offers a tidbit in this direction:
|In Lindgaard's study, screen images were flashed at test participants for 0.05 seconds, after which they could distinguish between more and less attractive designs. |
The way to decide questions about aesthetics:
Does this variation versus that lead to more sales / conversions?
I started reading the study and came to the pictures. How can a site with impossible to read text in all funny colours and masses of jumbled links be considered more usable than a site with a couple of neatly laid out options to chose from (even if there is a huge unnecessary photo above them)? Has Nielson got it wrong?
A little further reading put me off even more. I gave up - and not because of poor usability on the study page - it was because of the signals the page was giving out.
I'd be a lot more interested in the fails your test user highlighted.
|Does this variation versus that lead to more sales / conversions? |
If I have two variations, and one has higher conversion rates than another, does that obviate the need for usability testing?
That struck me too. The measures of usability were rather mechanically applied. If a site could check off 32 points on a usability checklist, it was considered usable, regardless of the mishmash of fonts and colors. So the example was pretty extreme and, despite my rather dismal design skills, I don't think I could ever turn out an abomination like the test case "ugly" site.
|I'd be a lot more interested in the fails your test user highlighted. |
No doubt about that. I expected some of them because I knew there were problems there, but wanted to watch somone try to accomplish a couple of tasks for a reality check to make sure I was solving the right problems. The ones I saw as problematic were generally a problem (though not always).
The surprise, though, was some of the features that I thought were pretty straightforward. I was NOT surprised by the fact that the tester failed in places I didn't expect. I was surprised by the fact that the second she slowed down, I knew exactly what the problem was. It was so obvious where her gaze and cursor were going and they weren't where I expected.
So of course, an utterly unusable site is a failure, regardless of beauty. But the study did make me wonder about paying more attention to aesthetics. I'm such a text-oriented person by nature, that I tend to notice typography, but other aspects of aesthetics much less so when I visit a site (I'm here on WebmasterWorld aren't I?).
It doesn't surprise me that users find a beautiful site more authoritative. But it's interesting that they rate it more usuable, and I think Tedster's take on it (they think it must be their fault, not the site's fault) hits the nail on the head.
|does that obviate the need for usability testing? |
I'd say no it doesn't, because a fair bit of usability testing should have already happened before the general public ever sees the site.
|interesting that they rate it more usable |
Reminder: Self-reported results are not always reliable.
Be cautious about collecting subjective opinions (user ratings) versus monitoring how users actually behave and what their success rates are for completing desired tasks.
thanks for sharing this information
|Users completed search and exploratory tasks |
I would totally expect visual appeal to be important for this task, its like dating the websites, its low level commitment
|Does this variation versus that lead to more sales / conversions |
If you can determine good e-metrics from the above results you are on the way to success:
- Min number of clicks to repeat purchase
- %of objections adrressed by homepage
- Mean time for tester to spot call to action
Jeeze what a bias study one is clean and the other is a total nightmare to look at. It does't take a rocket launcher to figure this one out.
vordmeiste I agree with you a worthless study IMO I can't see how they study team can even consider the bottom site easier to navigate as I got cross eyed just trying to look at the site.
The top site is much easier to navigate IMO and loads much faster so there are variables that were left out that makes this study unreliable.
I went thru this 10 years ago. When I first designed my website, it was with Microsoft Frontpage 98, and alot of the graphics was from clipart. The site had great usability however, since I previously took a University course, and the prof was a usability freak, and usability was drilled into me from day 1.
A few years later, we got a graphics designer in to revamp the site, to make it look professional, but mainintaing the usability guidelines, from my University days.
We experineced was no increase in sales, between our old ugly retro site with great usability, and our new pretty site with great usability.
Lesson: If you are going to hire a profesional to design or update at website; find someone who is an expert on usability, not on making websites pretty, as the base criteria, for hiring.
My impression is that great aesthetics will have minor positive effect on a website (and hide some usability issues), but more importantly bad aesthetics will have major negative effect on the site no matter how usable the structure is.
Having said that, i always get a kick when people start talking about what makes a "website" work. It's like talking about what makes a "business" work. Sure there are a few points common to all businesses, but things diverge quickly when you're comparing a car repair garage to a department store. This part is important:
|Participants appear to be more critical of sites when they are attempting to find specific information in a limited amount of time than participants that were allowed to browse the site with no specific goal. |
If your website is a brochure-type "look what we can do for you" site, aesthetics will carry more weight because it'll make the site more inviting for exploration. But if it's a discussion forum, usability will carry more weight because the site is more of a web application than anything. E-commerce sites fall somewhere in the middle, if it looks pretty but takes 10 steps to buy something, you won't get many conversions, if it looks ugly then visitors are less likely to trust the organization behind the website and give out their CC details. But then it depends on the product too, an electronics web store doesn't need to look that good, people are simply looking for the best price and best service, but a package vacation or ladies accessories site needs to set the right mood, people want those sites to look pretty.
It all boils down to the old adage: know your audience.
How much of "visual appeal" is actually a usability judgement? On the web I would guess it's the big part.
When you land on a page that's a complete mess don't you think "this is going to be a pain to read", or "I'll take ages to find what I want in here".
Have you ever thought "this page is a a bit ugly so I'll go away and try my luck on a site that's a bit prettier".
I guess there is a difference between, ugly, and what I call outdated or somewhat unprofessional, retro, or unpolished.
Anybody concerned enough with usability, at least has the smarts of making a site, that is not outright ugly.
Since ripoff and fraud sites are concerned about image to fool the user, many fraudlent site has been done professionally, to reassure the user that they are dealing with a real business.
My site is probably considered retro, since I have not updated by CSS file in years to reflect the latest colour trends, fads, etc, and it has not hurt my sales.
its all about user perception. what one visitor thinks is plain, and displeasing, one may think is simplistic and artsy.
'good' design and usability walk a fine line together.
there are a few 'design' elements that seem to be standard that 'help' usability:
white space/dark space/separation - (background color dependent of course) space is needed. its almost the majority that feel cluttered sites are harsh on the eyes and drive traffic away.
Graphics do work. - despite some of you 'page loading' freaks, graphics do help. they separate text, add visual stimulation for the viewer (some graphics more than others) and they can actually help convey your topic points better than text.
@vordmeister - Yes, as a designer first, developer second i have been to countless sites that i said "oh wow... this site is horrible (referring to the visual design elements) i think its time to go"
*my 2.8 cents*
|'good' design and usability walk a fine line together. |
I see them as intimately entwined. "Good" design encompasses usability. That's the difference between art and design - it's the functional aspect, and usability is very much a function of a "good" website.
Aren't we repeating about Web 2.0 again ?
One more resource for reading [websiteoptimization.com...]
Intresting - especially as I am trying to make my sites as fast as possible at the moment.
50ms is obviously a very short time and even a fast loading site is likely to have several 50ms stages in it's loading - so I am wondering if a person has several opportunities to form an opinion about the site before it is fully loaded.
Should we be paying more attention to the appearance of the first elements that load - parhaps fast loading images should load before text (I had always assumed it was important to present information or text as fast as possible but you are not going to read anything in 50ms), and what about conetnt that moves as it loads?
Obviously, the solution is to make beautiful sites that have great usability
So of course, an utterly unusable site is a failure, regardless of beauty
It doesn't surprise me that users find a beautiful site more authoritative.
All these mentions of beauty reminds me of another quote:
|When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong. |
R. Buckminster Fuller (1895 - 1983)
That's a great quote. It goes beyond the "Form follows function" to something a bit deeper. I find that if you appreciate design, even if like me you are not personally good at it, a very clean and simple design can have real beauty and it's important not to confuse glitz with beauty.
To some extent, that speaks to denisl's question - there are very beautiful sites that have no images. Beauty in design is a matter of composition, balance and coherence. Images may or may not be a part of that. On the web, they almost necessarily are, but they can be small and modest graphics and need not take up a lot bandwidth.
BTW, I mentioned Christopher Alexander's books above and haven't heard from anyone who says they've read them. I can't recommend them enough - they've had a huge impact on architecture (often recognized as the most important book on architecture in the second half of the twentieth century), but also on software development as well (source of the idea of design patterns in programming).