A new visitor arrives at your website and forms an impression of your organization in less than the blink of an eye. Not only do visitors decide whether your website looks good within 1/20th of a second, but researchers have found that their initial impression will impact perceptions of other aspects, such as the website's content.*

Initial perceptions of your website are largely dependent on visual design, but design plays a critical role in all aspects of the site visitor’s experience. Effective websites provide positive and dynamic experiences that are usable, accessible, relevant, and memorable. A website can be expertly architected, but if the color, size, and layout of navigational elements are not carefully considered, users may not understand what actions to take. Content can be beautifully crafted for the web, but without strong typography and appropriate contrast, visitors may not stick around to read it.

subject using a laptopIs the design of your website effective? One way to answer this question is to test your design with target audiences. Visual design tests can be conducted on your current site or on mockups of a new website. In a short amount of time, you will have a better understanding of how others react to your site’s design and more importantly, whether those perceptions align with your intentions.

Show your website’s homepage to a target audience member and allow them one minute to view it. (We will generously allow them more than the blink of an eye for this test!) Ask them the following questions.

  1. What is the purpose of this website?
  2. Who is this website for?
  3. What can I do here?
  4. What organization is behind this website?
  5. Upon first impression I feel________.

Try conducting this test with 3-5 people from each of your audience segments. Did their perception of the site’s purpose align with your intention? Did they recognize who the site was targeted toward? Could they quickly assess what actions they would be able to accomplish on your site? Did they clearly recognize your organization? Did their first impressions align with your main goals, objectives, and brand attributes? Ideally they have a positive first impression and make statements such as “I feel excited, impressed, or intrigued,” and not “I feel confused, overwhelmed, or annoyed.”

Once you have a better understanding of your site’s visual impression, you can adjust design elements to improve the visitor’s experience.

To learn to recognize effective visual design elements such as layout and space, hierarchy, typography, color, and contrast attend our upcoming webinar “Elements of Effective Web Design.”

* Attention web designers: You have 50 milliseconds to make a good first impression!