Still want your cousin’s neighbour’s masseuse’s kid to design your web site? From Nature magazine:

A study by researchers in Canada has shown that the snap decisions Internet users make about the quality of a web page have a lasting impact on their opinions….

The lasting effect of first impressions is known to psychologists as the ‘halo effect’: if you can snare people with an attractive design, they are more likely to overlook other minor faults with the site, and may rate its actual content (such as this article, for example) more favourably.

This is because of ‘cognitive bias’, Lindgaard explains. People enjoy being right, so continuing to use a website that gave a good first impression helps to ‘prove’ to themselves that they made a good initial decision.

Updated: The fine folks at UIE Brain Sparks make the very good point that function is at least as important. That is, if the site doesn’t allow users to do what they want to quickly and easily, your lovely design may not matter that much:

For example, CraigsList is a site that has tested very well with our users. Users loved the site. Why? Not because the site was visually appealing. CraigsList succeeded because the content surpassed their users’ expectations. The site makes its users happy despite what some might consider poor aesthetics. And none of the users left the site because of a “bad design.”

In all of our research studying user behavior, we see that visual aesthetics play a role in users’ judgments — but they take a backseat to the site’s content.

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