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Journal 2006-01-17: Stupid! People
I read in a blog—I won’t say which one—about an article—I won’t say which one—that cited a study by Dr. Gitte Lindgaard of Carleton University in Ottawa that demonstrated that people can determine within 1/20th of a second whether they like the visual design of a website.

If you Google for these terms, you’ll find numerous articles and even more numerous blog postings. The conclusion drawn is that you have 1/20th of a second to make a good impression. The only problem: Not one shred of evidence is cited for this conclusion. Now, one 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 frankly, I don’t know Sue Burgess from my grandfather’s dead uncle, who didn’t know a damn about website design. It also wouldn’t surprise me if her quote was taken out of context.

Sure, users know very quickly whether they like the visual design of a website. We always knew this. But no one said how this visual design affects their browsing. Intuition says that some people are going to be looking for specific content, and so they’re going to weigh quality of content more heavily than quality of the visuals. Others will not care so much about the content. Each website, moreover, will attract a different mix of these audiences. But note: What I just said was that, intuitively, the type and quality of content has a greater effect on browsing patterns than does visual appeal.

Even less certain is the link between browse time and site profit, which brings into the mix a host of factors I don’t even want to list here.

Basically, the blogosphere is in a tizzy because bloggers have done something stupid: We took the establishment press’s word for it rather than thinking critically on our own. Stupid. I thought we had learned.

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Christine Perfetti of User Interface Engineering (UIE) wrote today on this same topic, and she agrees with me! Ha! (Please allow me the pleasure of gloating just a little.)

From what I can tell, the researchers didn’t find any actual evidence that users will leave a site after 50 milliseconds if they find a site visually unappealing. The problem with Lindgaard’s conclusions is that the research didn’t study how users behave when they’re trying to accomplish their tasks.

Read the whole blog entry here:


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