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Net Users Take 1/20th of a Second to Judge your Blog’s Design

Posted By Darren Rowse 17th of January 2006 Blog Design 0 Comments

Martin just emailed me a link to an article that is sure to depress some bloggers. It talks about how internet users only take one twentieth of a second to decide whether they like the look of a website.

‘Dr Gitte Lindgaard and colleagues from Carleton University in Ottawa flashed up websites for 50 milliseconds and asked participants to rate them for visual appeal.

When they repeated the exercise after a longer viewing period, the participants’ ratings were consistent.

“Visual appeal can be assessed within 50 milliseconds, suggesting that web designers have about 50 milliseconds to make a good impression,” the Canadians report in the journal Behaviour & Information Technology.’

How do they decide what they like and don’t like? Well the article doesn’t go into great detail except to say:

‘She says the appeal of a website is usually tied to colour, movement and interactivity, with the way the information is structured coming second.’

I’ve written about the quickness the average blog visitors stays on blogs before but one twentieth of a second is pretty full on! All the more reason to work on blog design and think about what message your blog is communicating in the first few seconds of a visit.

About Darren Rowse
Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.
  1. This is great news. My much-criticized designs for Syntagma Media blogs has one big brilliant splash of colour in all of the headings, perfectly designed to be assessed in 1/20th of a second. Did we know that? Well……….

  2. That study makes a lot of sense. People always go about how content is the king, but well, no one will stay on an ugly site long enough to appreciate its content.

  3. Sorry Darren, but I think this is a little bit of b.s. Not on your part, but on those parsing the information.

    Perhaps this study “proves” that people can render a visual judgment of a site in 0.02 seconds, but that amount of time certainly gives a user no sense of the site’s information architecture or usability (to say nothing of content, btw). How many times have we all gotten frustrated with being unable find what we’re looking for on an otherwise PRETTY website?

    Bottom line: the underlying question here is wrong. The appeal of a website is the wrong thing to be measuring. Yeah, a hot girl on the beach appeals to me in 1/20 of a second, too, but after I talk with her for a couple of minutes and realize (a) she has a boyfriend, or (b) she’s dumb as rocks, or (c) she’s a snob, or (d) she’s 42, or (e) she’s 14… it’s all downhill, baby.

  4. I have to respectfully disagree with Tom… ease-of-use, and information architecture mean absolutely nothing if people aren’t sticking around use the site.

  5. Actually I have to agree with this report. Try checking your stats on your weblog (if you have a stat counter). You may be in for a surprise.

  6. Design Matters Online, Are We Still Suprised At This?

    Once again, the Problogger points me to a story entitled ‘Net Users Take 1/20th of a Second to Judge your Blog’s Design’, which links to a study that determines, gasp, that design matters online. I cannot believe we’re still discussing this topic….

  7. tom,
    respectfully, you missed the point…if the girl is ugly, you won’t talk to her at all and as you admitted you can decide that in 1/20th of a second!

  8. Cary/H.D. Goddess: How many beautiful but useless Flash sites have you visited only to find that there’s nothing there! Whereas look at this website.. or many blogs on the net. They’re actually not much to look at and extremely conventional. Columnar navigation (usually left-rail), categories, conventional link names (“contact me”), etc … it’s easy to use, it works, and it keeps you on the site and coming back.

    Again, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone to beautiful but worthless Flash sites. It’s a freaking pandemic on the Web. Forget bird flu.

  9. Tom, I think you’re still missing the point of the study – nobody is arguing that beauty makes for a great site (I hate Flash!)… the point they’re trying to make is that if a site doesn’t look good at first glance, most people won’t stick around long enough to see that the navigation is easy and the content is great.

    We aren’t saying that people “should” judge a site by its design, we’re only saying that people “do” judge a site by its design.

  10. Did I miss the link to the article? I went to Martin’s site, but found no article like that.

  11. I think the flaw here is the assumption that if a site is ugly, people won’t stay.

    Its demonstrably not true. Slashdot and Ain’t It Cool News are too but ugly websites that have a huge loyal repeat audience.

    I even have personal experience of this. Several of my readers have told me that they like one of my blogs but find the design incredibly boring. Yet they keep reading.

    People may judge whether they like the design in 1/20th of a second, but that doesn’t mean they leave instantly.

  12. I live right down the road from that University. :)

    And I totally agree about the time assessment.

  13. Obviously there is a balance between matching compelling design with compelling content. Users can think, “Schweet! A great new site” immediately or after gleaning a useful piece of info from your site. It can go both ways. It’s up to a webmaster/designer to manage the balance between both and match it up against whatever the userbase would prefer.

  14. @Robyn
    Please find the original article on news @ nature: http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060109/full/060109-13.html

  15. All right, maybe I’m still missing the point of the article, but allow me to offer a one-word rebuttal: RSS.

    (It kind of makes the whole study pointless in the first place, as the Web moves in that direction. Heck, I got to this entry and this comment form by reading Problogger in an aggregator.)

  16. Yes, people make a visual judgement within the first seconds on a site, but I can’t see where this is considered a valid study…. why?

    “…flashed up websites for 50 milliseconds…” is the first clue….

    A – The people knew they were participating in an experiment.
    B – They were given a specific time frame to view a page controlled by other people instead of themselves.
    C – Random websites not chosen by the viewer. This is where the biggest problem lies. Most people go to a website because they are looking for something specific, especially if they *know* that the site contains a file, article or something else they already had a clue existed via links on other sites and search engines. If they are looking for something in particular, they will then look for the item on the page, no matter what the design. This is evident in people looking for software, scripts, etc.
    D – There is a huge difference between someone having random pages flashed in front of them and visiting a site because they are looking for something.

    Conclusion: It may take 50 milliseconds to form a perception of the page, but there are too many factors involved to say that people ‘make up their minds’ that quickly.

    A primal response does not equate to a full perspective of the site’s content.

  17. “Visual appeal can be assessed within 50 milliseconds, suggesting that web designers have about 50 milliseconds to make a good impression,” the Canadians report in the journal Behaviour & Information Technology.’

    Well, if the “Canadians” said it .. it must be true :P

  18. […] Problogger carried an article yesterday in which it is reported that web users take 1/20th of a second to evaluate a website’s design. Isn’t this just thin-slicing (a la Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink?) […]

  19. The article says users can tell whether they like the visual aspects of a web site within 50 milliseconds. The article does NOT say whether or not users stick around after the 50 milliseconds are up. It also does NOT say to what extent the visual appeal of a site affects how long they stay to read the content. No doubt, this depends partly on the user. If he’s looking for specific content, he’s more likely to put more importance on the content and more likely to stay longer.

    Sue Burgess is quoted as saying, “There’s no doubt that people do respond very quickly to websites and decide very quickly whether to stay on them,” but the article cites not a single shred of evidence for that conclusion. (I have not found the study report and do not even know whether it is available on-line.) No doubt visual appeal does play into browsing patterns, but so does content. And I’m not going to spend hours and dollars optimizing for visual appeal, at the expense of content, based on this article.


  20. The results of the study in question are for real.

    There was another study done awhile ago, I -think- by Stanford, that analyzed how people judge the credibility and quality of a website and thus the company that puts it out there.

    The resounding results were: Quality of Graphic Design is the clear chief deciding factor by a landslide.

    Content didn’t even come close.

    I don’t think Stanford cooked it down quite as much to just a time study, but the results were clearly the same.

    I use the Stanford study as ammo to consulting clients all the time.

    -Pick on Carleton’s methodology all you want, but the results are accurate. :P

  21. I would be interested in hearing more about the Stanford study (or wherever it came from). However, what you just said is that people judge credibility and quality primarily from visual design. This, again, is nothing new. (People also judge whether they like you and trust you based on your body language, not on the actual words you say.) But this does not necessarily translate into browsing time. If you want to measure browse time, you have to measure browse time, not draw unsupported conclusions.

    I should also add that browse time does not necessarily translate into profit. It depends on the content and business model. Sometimes, you don’t want people to hang around and eat up your bandwidth. You want them to get in, get what they came for, and buy the product or whatever. Other business models encourage different behaviors.

    In the final analysis, it means you have to keep this in mind as a possible factor: Most people will judge the professionalism of your site within the first 1/20th of a second based on its visual appeal. However, you have to measure the actual factors that are important to your business model and optimize them.


  22. […] I was reading a magazine article which mentioned a study that I first seen a while back on ProBlogger about how website visitors take only a fraction of a second to form an opinion about a site and that these instant first impression colored their entire experience about the site. […]

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