The Effect of Aesthetics on Web Credibility

Experiments have shown that users can judge a web site’s credibility in as little as 3.42 seconds merely on the basis of its aesthetic appeal.

Recent studies have shown that judgments on web site credibility are 75% based on a web site’s overall aesthetics. [citing Fogg, B.J., Soohoo, C., and Danielson, D. 2002. How Do People Evaluate a Web Site’s Credibility?: Results from a Large Study. Consumer Reports Webwatch. DOI=

Farah Alsudani and Matthew Casey: The Effect of Aesthetics on Web Credibility  (PDF)

Emotional responses

The first (old) brain is concerned with the following positive feelings:

  • joy
  • gratitude
  • serenity
  • amusements
  • inspiration
  • hope
  • pride
  • love
  • belonging
  • safety

negative feelings rooted in the first brain:

  • Anxiety
  • disgust
  • grief
  • humiliation
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • Worthlessness
  • feeling lost
  • feeling unsupported
  • feeling conflicted

barnes/kelleher 2015 p 128-9

Web Credibility

We have compiled 10 guidelines for building the credibility of a web site. These guidelines are based on three years of research that included over 4,500 people:

  1. Make it easy to verify the accuracy of the information on your site.
    You can build web site credibility by providing third-party support (citations, references, source material) for information you present, especially if you link to this evidence. Even if people don’t follow these links, you’ve shown confidence in your material.
  2. Show that there’s a real organization behind your site.
    Showing that your web site is for a legitimate organization will boost the site’s credibility. The easiest way to do this is by listing a physical address. Other features can also help, such as posting a photo of your offices or listing a membership with the chamber of commerce.
  3. Highlight the expertise in your organization and in the content and services you provide.
    Do you have experts on your team? Are your contributors or service providers authorities? Be sure to give their credentials. Are you affiliated with a respected organization? Make that clear. Conversely, don’t link to outside sites that are not credible. Your site becomes less credible by association.
  4. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.
    The first part of this guideline is to show there are real people behind the site and in the organization. Next, find a way to convey their trustworthiness through images or text. For example, some sites post employee bios that tell about family or hobbies.
  5. Make it easy to contact you.
    A simple way to boost your site’s credibility is by making your contact information clear: phone number, physical address, and email address.
  6. Design your site so it looks professional (or is appropriate for your purpose).
    We find that people quickly evaluate a site by visual design alone. When designing your site, pay attention to layout, typography, images, consistency issues, and more. Of course, not all sites gain credibility by looking like The visual design should match the site’s purpose.
  7. Make your site easy to use — and useful.
    We’re squeezing two guidelines into one here. Our research shows that sites win credibility points by being both easy to use and useful. Some site operators forget about users when they cater to their own company’s ego or try to show the dazzling things they can do with web technology.
  8. Update your site’s content often (at least show it’s been reviewed recently).
    People assign more credibility to sites that show they have been recently updated or reviewed.
  9. Use restraint with any promotional content (e.g., ads, offers).
    If possible, avoid having ads on your site. If you must have ads, clearly distinguish the sponsored content from your own. Avoid pop-up ads, unless you don’t mind annoying users and losing credibility. As for writing style, try to be clear, direct, and sincere.
  10. Avoid errors of all types, no matter how small they seem.
    Typographical errors and broken links hurt a site’s credibility more than most people imagine. It’s also important to keep your site up and running.

Stanford Guidelines for Web Credibility

The Elements Of Emotional Design

The goal is to connect with users and evoke positive emotions. Positive emotions instill positive memories and make users want to interact with your product in the future.
There’s an additional benefit, though. In pleasant, positive situations, people are much more likely to tolerate minor difficulties and irrelevance. While poor design is never excusable, when people are relaxed, the pleasant and pleasurable aspects of a design will make them more forgiving of problems within the interface.
Below is a non-exhaustive list (based on personal observation) of ways to induce these positive emotions. Of course, people will respond to things differently depending on their background, knowledge, etc., but these psychological factors should work in general:

  • Positivity
  • Surprise – Do something unexpected and new.
  • Uniqueness – Differ from other products in an interesting way.
  • Attention – Offer incentives, or offer help even if you’re not obliged to.
  • Attraction – We all like attractive people, so build an attractive product.
  • Anticipation – Leak something ahead of the launch.
  • Exclusivity – Offer something exclusive to a select group.
  • Be responsive – Show a reaction to your audience, especially when they’re not expecting it.

Simon Schmid: The Personality Layer

What Are The Top 10 Positive Emotions?

  • Joy – Joy happens in an instant — a perfect moment captured when all is just exactly as it should be. Think of a wonderful holiday morning with the family, an unexpected present that delights you, or seeing the first smile on your infant’s face. What brings you Joy?
  • Gratitude – Gratitude is a moment of realizing someone has gone out of their way for you, or simply feeling overwhelmed with your heart opening, after being moved in some way. With gratitude comes a desire to give in return or ‘pay it forward’ in some way. When did you last experienced deep Gratitude?
  • Serenity – Serenity is like a mellow, relaxed, or sustained version of Joy. Serenity is a peacefulness that comes on a cloudless day, when you realize there’s nothing you have to do. Serenity is indulging in a favorite luxury, and being mindful enough to take it in. Serenity is the moment on vacation when you finally let go. Has Serenity crossed your door lately?
  • Interest – Interest is a heightened state that calls your attention to something new that inspires fascination, and curiosity. Like a shiny new toy to capture your imagination, interest is alive and invigorating. Interest wakes you up, and leaves you wanting more. What Interests you these days?
  • Hope – Dr. Fredrickson describes it best: “Unlike other emotions that arise out of comfort and safety, hope springs out of dire circumstances, as a beacon of light. Deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change, turn out better. Possibilities exist. Hope sustains you and motivates you to turn things around.” The inauguration of President Obama brought me Hope. What brings you Hope?
  • Pride – Ever done something really well that took a little time and effort? Maybe you reached a goal you never thought was attainable? Then pat yourself on the back with unadulterated Pride. Stand back, take that deep breath and let it in — you earned it. What have you done that made your proud?
  • Amusement – Think of amusement as those delightful surprises that make you laugh. It’s those unexpected moments that interrupt your focus and crack you up. It’s a great feeling to have amusement sparkle out of the doldrums and instantly change your perspective. Have you had any amusement in your life recently?
  • Inspiration – Inspiration is a moment that touches your heart and nearly takes your breath away — or takes in your breath, as the word literally translates. Inspiration whispers between the strands of your hair, as you watch a perfect sunset, witness academic or athletic excellence, or observe unexpected triumphs over adversity. What brings Inspiration in your life?
  • Awe – Awe happens when you come across goodness on a grand scale, and you feel overwhelmed by greatness. Awe is triggered when we are faced with the vastness of Nature, or the cosmos. Gazing at the Milky Way and counting the stars, or standing at the top of the Grand Canyon triggers awe. Have you had a moment of awe lately?
  • Love – Guess what? The list is rigged. Actually, the #1 most frequent positive emotion is here at the bottom. Love encompasses all of the above: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration and even awe. Love is all that and more. When we experience love, our bodies are flooded with the “feel good” hormones that reduce stress and even lengthen our lives.

Kari Henley in the Huffington Post

UX focuses on adding personality and utility to an inherently emotionless medium

In the face of systemization essential to digital systems, UX focuses on adding personality and utility to an inherently emotionless medium. A good UX designer will:

  • empathize with users
  • help them achieve their goals
  • balance business objectives with the integrity of the user’s experience
  • ultimately, help people improve their lives through technology

Jessica Greco: What Can SEO Learn From UX?

Direct touch

Direct touch bypasses abstraction and creates a strong connection with the touched object. This is particularly true when the object itself triggers associations in our minds. Due to its very size and weight and display area, the iPad triggers powerful associations with:

* Printed documents
* Notepads of paper
* File-folders from the filing cabinet
* Clipboards
* Books

There is something intrinsically “right” about seeing the iPad as a technological successor to, or version of, these physical objects. We’re immediately ready to accept the one as a substitute or enhancement for the other. This is a powerful, and novel, position for the iPad software developer.

Matt Legend Gennel: iPad application design

Decisions are linked to activity in all parts of the brain

“What makes us human is that we have all three brains [new brain/cortex, mid brain and old brain], but since the new brain is the only part of brain functioning that we are conscious of we think it is the most important player. Our mid brain (emotions) and old brain (automatic functioning) processing are, for the most part, unconscious, but there’s the interesting thing: our behavior and our decision-making is just as affected, actually, even more affected by our old brain and our mid brain than it is by our new brain.
What does this mean? It means that we think we make decisions about how to act and what to do consciously, but actually most of our decision making and behavior is governed by unconscious aspects.”

Weinschenk (2009), p.7

User experience mindset (PACE)

“The user experience mindset is an acquired condition for which there is no cure.”

Jesse James Garrett talks about new challenges for User experience professionals who increasingly will need to pursue an integrated approach to UX (multi-channel experience including products, services, environment and more).

The actual challenge is to design independently from a specific medium. Or as JJG puts it:

“Experience design is the design of anything, independent of medium or across media, with human experience as an explicit outcome and human engagement as an explicit goal.”

    The four domains of user experience design (the PACE model):

  1. Perception: engaging the senses
  2. Action: engaging the body
  3. Cognition: engaging the mind
  4. Emotion: engaging the heart

Jesse James Garrett’s talk on UX Week 2009 Video