How many times have you picked up a magazine because of what is on the cover? How many other magazines did you see that didn’t catch your eye? Online we have even shorter attention spans these days (9 to 5 seconds is the new number) because our options are so vast we have no patience. Jakob Nielsen, Nielsen Norman Group, told BBC that “People want sites to get to the point. They have very little patience.”
Visitors to a website or a piece of social media content are heavily influenced by first impressions. How something is designed is not more important than content, but it certainly helps to keep the attention and interest.
Graphic design is visual information management with the main goal to display a strong visual hierarchy that can lead a viewers eye through a page. We scan pages when we first come to a site, looking for elements that capture our eye and then fine tune our vision to investigate deeper. Present the most important information first with the greatest emphasis.
Pictures and images help with creating first impressions. I am always surprised whenever I am on Digg and a post doesn’t have a thumbnail image by it, even some posts in the IMAGES category. But pictures all over the page chaotically are distracting and do not create and contrast that attracts the eye. The design must strike the right balance to drive attention with visual contrast and the feeling of organization. And there must be some relevance in the picture, have it connect with the other content.
Direction can be an element that is used to create movement that a users eye will follow through the design. Does your content have a lead in image or a title with a larger font size ? Where is it placed? Is it the largest image/font size in your design or are all the images/fonts the same size? Create contrast with size, color, and shape.
Page load times are another way to secure first impressions. Does it take longer than a few seconds for your page to load? I might not have seen it then, same for a lot of other potential viewers. Like Nielsen said, I am impatient with a site when it takes long to load unless I know what the potential content will be or if I need to access it. If a page loads quickly then I may be more likely to navigate further into the site knowing I won’t have to wait long for more content.
Designing with navigation in mind can drive traffic further into a site. Including internal links in the content will encourage users to view additional pages. The more content that they may be interested in, like the 5 different forms of social media news momentum, the better for everyone.
Make it easier on the reader by breaking the content up into bite sizes. Simple paragraphs, highlighted or bold words, lists and white space so that the eye can flow around the content smoothly. Look at the example below of UseIt.com‘s simple way to organize the content with a big title font and then small summary highlighted in a yellow box- then the full text underneath it.
How is your page being viewed? Find out how people see your website, photo or ad and which areas are getting most of the attention with a free heat-mapping service at feng-gui.com. It uses an algorithm that predicts what the human eye will be most likely to be looking at. This algorithm reaches a 70% of accuracy compared with Eye and Mouse Tracking.
For further reading elsewhere, check out Jakob Nielsen’s top ten Guidelines for Homepage Usability. Here he talks about how potential customers will get a first impression of your homepage, company, and decide whether or not to do business with you based on that impression.
If you have the content to drive in traffic then don’t drive it away with bad design. Follow some of these simple guidelines and it can help with the first impressions people get.
What do you think helps and hurts first impression on a page? What about widgets and add ons, do you like them or are they overbearing? Social media site links and submit options, should they be on the top of the page or on the bottom of the content (when you finish reading it)?