The Cover Matters: First Impressions in Design

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover.’.. I have a message: like it or not, it’s being judged.

webdesign first impressions

Be it a book or a website, the first impression counts if it’s to stand out from the crowd

We’ve all heard the phrase ‘don’t judge a book by it’s cover’, but in all honesty, I definitely do. As a visual person and a web designer at Wonderlabs I suppose it would be a mild concern if I didn’t. ‘Content is King’ is another phrase that we hear often, it‘s true, or at least it’s certainly the heart and the soul to a book or a website, but there’s no getting away from the fact the outer layer is what we see first, we know our brains are wired to process images faster than words so composition, colour and pictures are key.

I’d like to say I wouldn’t stand in a bookshop and be completely discouraged by an eyesore of a cover, but It would probably be back on the shelf and jammed between two neighbouring books quicker than I could read the title. That may be a little hasty on my part, but I don’t want to sift through a layer of dust to get to the good stuff if you know what I mean. I like to be engaged and enticed as soon as I look at something.

The same goes for on the web, If an overbearing use of colour and typography is offensively scattered across the page, my eyes will be fatigued before I’ve registered the real substance. In fact it takes a user less than two tenths of a second to form a first impression, this is according to recent eye tracking research conducted at Missouri University of Science and Technology. So even more reason to get that home page looking how it should. It takes a further 2.4 seconds for the user to focus on the specific areas that form that first impression.


Number of seconds users focused on these areas

In the research experiment the participants remained on a website page for roughly 20 seconds rating it on visual appeal, it was then determined what area sparked the most interest and how long people tended to focus on specific portions of a web page before moving on to another part of the page.

web vision stats


So although the written content falls into one of the areas that spark the most interest, users eyes lingered a fraction longer or an equal amount of time on the other elements of the site, all these elements on the page play an intrinsic part of the sites aesthetic success. It was also noted during the experiment that the choice of colour was a key factor in whether the site was deemed successful.

Another experiment carried out at the Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, showed volunteers a mere glimpse of a website lasting for only 50 milliseconds. So that’s a real test in first impressions. The results found that the opinion of the site formed in a mere half a second was closely matched to opinions formed after a much longer examination of the site.

Amazingly the judgements were being made almost as quickly as the eye can take in information. The researchers also believe that these quickly formed first impressions last because of what is known to psychologists as the “halo effect”.

So If people believe a website looks good, then this positive view point will spread to other areas, such as the website’s content, and since I, and perhaps other people like to be right, they will continue to use the website that made a good first impression, as this will confirm that their initial decision was a good one. So it would seem that colour, typography, and good imagery really does count for a lot.

wondernaut kerry

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