"While many people still associate visual design for the Web with “making things look pretty”, investing in the presentation layer of Web sites can quickly yield more significant returns. When done right, the visual design of a Web page can communicate key concepts to Web users: what am I looking at, how do I use it, and why would I care to? Of these fundamental questions, one gets asked before the others and often determines if people give your Web site a chance to succeed or not.
What am I looking at?
According to the research firm, comScore, Americans conducted 11.8 billion searches in July 2008. That’s a lot of attention coming from a few keywords, and a quick scan of an ordered list of abstracts. Where the rubber hits the road, though, is when people select one of these links and land on the Web page they lead to. There, one of three things is likely to happen:
* A person looks over the page and determines it is not relevant to their goals.
* A person looks over the page and determines it might be relevant to their goals then quickly scans the page for the information they need.
* A person looks over, then quickly scans the page, finds the information they need, and stays awhile.
While these scenarios may seem somewhat obvious, the timing of them might not be. In a 2006 study of users interacting with over 65,000 unique URIs, researchers Weinreich & Herder found that 25% of all Web pages were displayed for less than 4 seconds and 52% of all visits were less than 10 seconds with a peak between 2 and 3 seconds. Using these metrics in conjunction with our earlier scenarios, this means people generally decided whether or not a page was relevant to them in 2 to 3 seconds and that they deemed a quarter of the pages they encountered not to be. Of the pages that passed the 2 to 3 second test, another 25% of pages didn’t make it past a quick scan that only lasted up to 10 seconds. While we can debate if this data holds up today (I personally believe the numbers might be overly generous), the fact remains there’s not a lot of time to tell people what they are looking at. In fact, people determine what “kind” of page they are looking at almost immediately.
Visual First Impressions
Within the first moments of encountering a Web page, people jump between the distinct visual areas of the page trying to get a sense of what they are looking at. To see this in action, just follow the blue dot in the eye-tracking video illustrated in figure 1. It shows a user’s eye movements through a Web page they are encountering for the first time. Note the way this user’s eyes move between large areas of the page very quickly." (Continued via UIE, LukeW) [Usability Resources]