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Make Your Look Matter

An essential part of the online user experience is all about how you design your site. As the third principle from our Powers of Persuasion eBook, we are looking at how the look of your site can influence the user for the better!

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Do looks really matter? When it comes to your website and its ability to influence people, the answer is a resounding yes!

When we talk about online persuasion, we are really talking about good user experience. An essential part of user experience is the visual design and look of your website.

You only get one chance to make a good first impression given that people have short attention spans. In fact, some eye-tracking research suggests that it is as short as two-tenths of a second! There's more to it than first impressions though.

Nathalie Nahai suggests that people are more likely to go back to a website when they like the appearance and functionality of it.

Research also suggests that simplicity matters. This study by Google in 2012 found that websites with low 'visual complexity' were perceived as highly appealing.

So how can we use design in the digital space to positively influence people?

Influence by design

The keys to persuasive design are working with your website agency and investing in user research and design. Here are a few tips you should consider:

Let them interact – increase engagement with your message by giving people ways to interact with your site’s content. This could be as simple as allowing for user generated content or making use of 'slider' type interactivity.

Colour me in – consider carefully your use of colour on websites as each colour has its own set of influences associated with it. In Western cultures, blue can often be associated with calmness and trust, but it can also be associated with sadness. Make sure you remember that when you are using colour to communicate that not everyone can see colour. Will colour blindness or a visual impairment impact your viewer’s ability to understand the message being communicated?

Essentialism – when you’re looking at your homepage, ask yourself – what could be removed? Remember, the less visually complex your site is, the more visually appealing it becomes. Get clean and simple with your site. Your web designers will thank you for not insisting everything needs to be on the front page.

Show progress – there's a nifty psychological principle called the endowed progress effect. It shows that if people can see progress towards their goal, they will try harder to accomplish it. Use design and visual markers to give users a sense that a task, such as completing a profile or form, is only partially complete. It will make them want to complete their task!

The eyes have it – many of the insights into how people engage with websites have come from eye-tracking studies. One of the more well-known studies from the Nielsen Norman Group showed that people commonly scan web pages in an F shaped pattern. This pattern is important to remember for design and making sure your information will be seen 'within the F'. If you have the budget, you should consider doing your own eye-tracking study to test the design of your site.

Harness the default – employ this one with integrity! If you show the popular choices or even pre-select tick boxes, then this can be enough to nudge the rate of completion higher. This is due to the status quo effect which is our preference for things that are familiar or stay the same. On his great blog, the UXbooth Anders Toxboe writes:

Simply stating what options are more popular or preselecting default choices, is often enough to influence a decision, we also tend to stick with it as it allows users to avoid thinking too hard about our choices.

Integrity alert: use your powers for good

Before you employ any of these principles, let's talk about integrity again. When we consider UX and persuasive design, there are sneaky examples littering the online world. Our SilverStripe designer, James Ford, covers more about dark UX patterns in his fantastic blogpost – Little White UX.

When thinking about persuasive design, we are inspired by Anders Toxboe, the creator of the Persuasion Patterns Card Deck. He encourages us to to ask ourselves: does this design help users achieve their goal or keep them from it?

Want to know more about using persuasion to build a better website? Download the Powers of Persuasion eBook today!

Download the Powers of Persuasion ebook

About the author
Claire Hodds

With qualifications in marketing, communications and journalism, Claire has more than 10 years experience across a range of industries. She is passionate about continuous improvement and applying insights from behavioural economics to marketing strategies.

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