Eye AppealIs a beautiful website more usable?

Psychological literature has discussed, for some time, the “what is beautiful is good” phenomenon. That is, we ascribe positive attributes to things that are more attractive. This applies to people products and websites. But does that positive halo also carry over to our impressions of website usability?

Forming Impressions Early

We form impressions of the visual appeal of websites in a fraction of a second. Gitte Lindgaard and her team at the appropriately named HOT Laboratory (Human Oriented Technology) found that participants in their studies could form reliable impressions of website visual appeal in as little as 50 milliseconds (Lindgaard et al 2006)!  It takes 250 milliseconds to blink! They also found participants’ ratings of the same 100 homepages were consistent over time (typically R-Square of ~94%). That is, if users think a webpage has low attractiveness at one point in time, they feel the same way at a future point.

What is Usable is Beautiful

We’ve seen evidence for strong associations between visual appeal and usability, and impressions of beauty do form quickly and are stable over time. How does this impact the usability of a website (both actual usability and the perception of usability)?

Researchers in Europe recently conducted an experiment wherein they manipulated both the usability and visual appeal of an online ecommerce website (Tuch, Roth, Hornbæk, Opwisa, & Bargas-Avilaa, 2012).  They essentially took one website, made the navigation intuitive or not intuitive, and then changed the colors and contrast to be appealing or unattractive.

They used task-based measures of usability (completion rates, clicks, and the ASQ, a three-itemvariant of the SEQ) and several post-test measures of usability, including the System Usability Scale (SUS).

To measure website beauty, they used the longer set of aesthetic items from Lavie and Tractinsky and Hedonic measures from Hazzenzahl.  They found, somewhat to their surprise, that it was NOT the more attractive website that increased usability scores, but rather it was the more usable websites that tended to increase measures of beauty!  In short they did NOT find that what is beautiful is usable, but  rather that what is usable is beautiful—an important difference in the causation from earlier studies which found correlations between measures of beauty and usability.

(This information is from measuringu.com)