To make menus and links simpler you have to think like a
customer. You also have to reduce the number of links and focus
on the task at hand.

If you visit the BBC homepage and choose “Sport” you are brought
to a page about sport. Just sport. The critical first screen is
all about sport. No links to news or weather or business. Just
sport. If you click on Football you arrive at a page that’s just
about Football. Just Football. Not cricket. Not rugby. Not golf.
Just football. If you click on “Premier League” you get to a
page dedicated to the Premier League.

This is not web design. It’s web management. It’s about
eliminating all choices that are not connected with the
customer’s current task, which in the above example might be:
Find out the latest news about the Premier League.

Some time ago, if you looked at BBC pages you would have found a
common navigation going across the top of them: Home, News,
Sport, Radio, etc. Not so anymore. The BBC has a clearer,
simpler, more focused set of pages. Focused on the task at hand,
rather than the task that might be.

Web teams are often plagued by what-if exception-based
navigation design thinking. “What if the person on the Premier
League page is in India and really wants to know if Drop Dead
Gorgeous is on tonight?” Well, tough. They’re going to have to
go back to the homepage.

Web teams need to toughen up. They need to make tough decisions.
Putting every piece of content you have on your website serves
nobody but confuses and annoys everybody. I’ve often heard
customers say: “Yeah, it’s on the website alright. Just try
finding it!” Cluttering your pages with lots and lots of links
that are worded with organization-centric language (jargon, tool
names, branding terms) is truly terrible design and management.
Placing irrelevant or distracting cross-links sends people in
the wrong direction, wastes their time and increases their

Remember the Amazon pages some years back? They had lots of
links at the top of the page that followed you around the site.
Links like: Kitchen, Software, Electronics. Doesn’t happen
today. You just get one big link near the top right-hand corner:
“Shop All Departments.” The more you drill down through the
site, the more the navigation focuses. It focuses, based on the
decisions you have made, to point you forward. So, if you’re in
“Bathroom Accessories” the links are for: Bathroom Mirrors,
Bathtub Accessories, Scales, etc.

One of the most common and most confusing forms of navigation
around is the one that brings previous levels with it as you
drill down. SAP is just one of the companies that uses this
approach. Let’s say you click on Solutions and keep clicking
down until you get to “SAP ERP Features and Functions: End-User
Service Delivery.” If you scan down the left navigation, you
will see a link for “Services.” If you click on that link you
don’t get more on ERP-related services, but rather you get sent
to the homepage for SAP overall services.

Menus and links need to be designed in the context of the task
the customer is trying to complete. That means stripping away
higher-level options and creating links that point forward based
on the task at hand.


Americans Want Brands that Inform

The top characteristic US consumers want from brands they like is to improve their knowledge—and the least desirable one is for a brand to “only be visible in store”—according to the “Global Web Index” from Lightspeed Research.

Helping consumers keep up to date on topics that were important to them was also key, followed by being entertaining, becoming part of a daily routine, and informing consumers about the product and the company. Consumers were relatively uninterested in brands that tried to act like their friends.

Actions Brands Can Take that Are Most Relevant to US Internet Users, August-September 2009 (scale of 1-5*)

Unsurprisingly in a difficult economy, consumers said the most relevant thing a brand could do for them was offer discounts. That topped various social and creative efforts such as online communities and brand-created video or TV programs.

Word-of-mouth was the No. 1 purchase driver according to the surveyed consumers. Face-to-face recommendations had significantly more weight with respondents than TV ads, advice from online friends, e-mails or Websites.

Trusted Sources Used to Gather Information for Purchase Decisions According to US Internet Users, August-September 2009 (scale of 1-5*)

And the most trusted source of brand information was family members, followed by friends and experts.

Interestingly, US consumers found social network contacts and bloggers that they read regularly more trustworthy than major journalists, television news readers and radio presenters. Celebrities and TV show presenters were tied with politicians for the dishonor of being considered least trustworthy.

Compared with Americans, consumers surveyed in the UK were more likely to value brands that helped them connect with people, and were more responsive to competitions and TV advertising.


Know Your Typefaces! Semantic Differential Presentation of 40 Onscreen Typefaces

Dawn Shaikh* – User Experience Researcher (Seattle/Kirkland UX Team)

Summary. This article presents results from a study investigating the personality of typefaces. Participants were asked to rate 40 typefaces (from serif, sans serif, display, and handwriting classes) using semantic differential scales. Responses are shown by typeface class and individual typeface using scaled scores. These results are helpful to practitioners when deciding which typeface to use for online text.


While there has been quite a bit of research on the perception of printed type, there has not been a thorough investigation into the perception of onscreen type. This article presents the results from an investigation of the perceived personality of 40 onscreen typefaces (10 from serif, sans serif, display, and handwriting classes). The results presented here are from the responses of 379 participants who completed an online survey using semantic differentials. The semantic differential provides participants with a sample of nonsense text and a set of bipolar adjectives on a scale that has varying points of intensity. Each used a 7-point scale which allowed participants to judge both direction and intensity of their responses (Osgood & colleagues, 1957). Figure 1 shows a sample.


Figure 1. Examples of text sample, semantic scales, and legibility question.

The responses reduced down to three factors to describe the typefaces: Evaluative, Potency, and Activity.

  • Potency reflects typefaces that are seen as having strength, power, or force.
  • Evaluative reflects typefaces that are viewed as having value, worth, and importance.
  • Activity reflects typefaces that are considered to be full of energy, movement, and action.

The factors were correlated; Potency and Activity were positively correlated, and Potency and Evaluative were negatively correlated. Table 1 shows the typefaces evaluated by class. Clicking on the typeface name, or class, displays the corresponding scale results. Figure 2 shows the results by typeface class. The scale results are helpful to practitioners as they decide which typeface to use for online content. It is important to present online text in a typeface that is consistent with the meaning of the text. For example, a designer would not want to present content that is “strong” in meaning in a Scripted typeface. Likewise, a Display typeface would not be a good choice for content that conveys “high value” or “beauty”.

Table 1. Typefaces evaluated using semantic differential scales.

Serif Sans Serif Display Script/Handwriting
Calisto Arial Agency Bradley Hand
Cambria Berlin Sans Bauhaus 93 Brush Script
Centaur Calibri Chiller French Script
Courier New Century Gothic Broadway Gigi
Georgia Consolas Curlz Informal Roman
High Tower Text Corbel Impact Kristen
Lucida Bright Lucida Console Juice Lucida Handwriting
Perpetua Incised 901 Lt BT Papyrus Viner Hand
Poor Richard Trebuchet Playbill Monotype Corsiva
Times New Roman Verdana Tempus Sans Vivaldi


Comparison of all classes

Figure 2. Results by typeface class.


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*Note: This article presents a small portion of findings from Dawn Shaikh’s dissertation investigating the perceptions of typeface personality. Please contact Dr. Shaikh for more information.


Visual Appeal vs. Usability: Which One Influences User Perceptions of a Website More?

Christine Phillips* & Barbara S. Chaparro

Summary. This study examines the effects of visual appeal and usability on user performance and satisfaction with a website. Users completed search and exploratory tasks on sites which varied in visual appeal (high and low) and usability (high and low). Results indicate that first impressions are most influenced by the visual appeal of the site. Users gave high usability and interest ratings to sites with high appeal and low usability and interest ratings to sites with low appeal. User perceptions of a low appeal website were not significantly influenced by the site’s usability even after a successful experience with the site. Another finding suggested users actively searching for information were more aware of usability issues than users who simply explored a site.


Perceived usability of a website by a user is often more influential than the actual product efficiency and ease of use. The visual appeal of an interface appears to play a role in the user’s rating on perceived usability. For example, Kurosu & Kashimura (1995) found that users reported an aesthetically appealing ATM interface easier to use than an unappealing or bland ATM interface. Tractinsky, Katz & Ikar (2000) also investigated ATM interfaces and found that the more aesthetically pleasing interfaces were judged to be more usable, despite actual usability. Brady and Phillips (2003) found that participants ranked websites with good balance and color as more usable than websites with unbalanced and poorly selected color schemes.

The importance of visual appeal of websites has shown that aesthetics play an important role in first impressions of a website and that they may form in as little as 50ms (Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek, & Brown, 2006). The role of first impressions on a website is very important as there is evidence that they may be long-lasting. Lindgaard & Dudek (2002) suggest that this occurs due to the confirmation bias (Mynatt, Doherty, & Tweeney, 1977, Klayman & Ha, 1987) which states that people tend to seek confirming evidence of their initial impressions and ignore disconfirming evidence. So, if a user likes the appearance of a website when they first see it, they may continue to like it regardless of how successful they are in using the site.

In the Lindgaard & Dudek (2002) study, participants completed tasks using a website with high aesthetic appeal and low usability. Participants did not change their ratings of aesthetic value after using the site with low usability; however, they did report lower satisfaction with the site. The authors suggested that this indicates that satisfaction and perception of aesthetic appeal of a website may be independent of one another. However, more research is needed as this study did not examine websites that were low in aesthetic appeal. Therefore, it is not known what would happen to user satisfaction or ratings of appeal when working with a low appeal website with high usability. Likewise, it is unclear how much influence the tasks users do with the site have on perceptions of satisfaction and appeal. Does a site’s usability influence users more if they are searching for specific information than if they are simply browsing?

The purpose of this study was to further examine the relationship between website usability, aesthetic appeal, and user satisfaction both before and after completing tasks that are directed (Search) vs non-directed (Browse). It was expected that the aesthetic appeal and usability of the website would impact user perceptions, performance, and satisfaction of the sites viewed. Specifically, it was expected that the participants would:

  • Have more positive first impressions of the high appeal site than the low appeal site.
  • Have more positive final impressions of sites with high usability than with low usability.
  • Be influenced more by the site’s usability when searching a site than when simply exploring the site.


An attractive homepage entices users to view more of the site and creates feelings of interest and initial satisfaction. If the homepage is unattractive, users do not appear to be interested, nor do they desire more interaction with the site. Designers must develop a homepage that not only attracts user’ attention but also engages them. This research suggests that an attractive site is more likely to pull in users than an unattractive site regardless of how well it is designed from a usability standpoint. An unattractive site, despite high usability, does not attract user interest and maintains low satisfaction.


Harnessing Your Power of First Impression

What was that I saw?


1 second

In January, 2006, the cat jumped out of the bag. Canadian researchers said there was no difference in a first impression seen for only one twentieth of a second when compared to a half a second impression.

Check out the news release.

Why should we care? Who spends such a short time on a web site anyway? Well, HCI researcher Gitte Lindgaard said it straight:

“…negative first impressions, once formed, take more work to change than impressions that start off as positive or even neutral. In an e-commerce context, this means that users will click onto the next site if they do not like what first hits their eyes, ears, or both.”

The heat’s on

So what choices must you manage to get the right first impression?

Let’s say you’re product manager of your state’s official tourism Web site. Your state needs more tourists to pay for your salary. Your manager keeps track of unique page visits. You absolutely must generate at least 10% more page visits in the next six months, or you join the unemployed.

Your 2-person usability team has some ideas of how to do it. But you have limited time. Therefore, for starters, which 3 of these choices should your team focus on? (Pick them now or forever be guilty.)

___ Provide useful information
___ Be easy to use
___ Be trustworthy
___ Inspire people to visit the travel destination
___ Help people be involved in planning their trip
___ Enable direct contract with tourism offices

What seven seconds can get you

Two professional tourism researchers, Heejun Kim and Daniel Fesenmaier checked out home pages from 50 official state tourism Web sites. They gave a set of similar questions to groups of students as they each looked at about 17 home pages from those sites.

But wait a minute. They gave participants only 7 seconds to look at each page before getting their responses.

OK, it’s a lot more than a half second – but it’s still a legitimate “first impression”.

Out of the six elements of design I gave you, Kim and Fesenmaier found that only three contributed to forming a first impression in those seven seconds.

Did you pick these three? (Your continued employment depends on this…).

  • Inspiration: The home page “inspires me to visit the travel destination”
  • Usability: The home page appears “easy to use” (80% of the impact from inspiration).
  • Credibility: The home page appears “trustworthy” (50% of the impact from inspiration).

Novel graphics make graphic novels

The authors conclude that “visually appealing stimuli are the most important tool for converting Web site lookers to users and/or making them stay longer on the Web site.”

Well, maybe this is why high school students prefer reading graphic novels instead of long tomes of print.

Here are the three statements that defined “inspiration” in the research questionnaire. How would your team handle these design goals?

The destination home page…

  1. Represents the destination in an appealing way
  2. Helps me be imaginative about the destination
  3. Inspires me to visit the destination.

(See Table 1 in the article for the full set of 19 questions.)

How to prime the pump for purchase decisions

The question of how to “inspire” prospective customers leads us to another study by two professors who study how persuasion works. Naomi Mandel and Eric J. Johnson investigated how seemingly incidental visual components shape or influence our decisions.

Researchers call this phenomenon “priming”. This draws on the idea of putting water into the pipe leading to the underground water source in order to make it work faster.

They asked whether a rich and colorful graphical background could influence the products Web site visitors buy.

Are you primed to learn more now?

Sofa, so good

Imagine you want to purchase a sofa. Upon reaching the Web site you see an information page with clouds in the background. By the way, do you really think about the clouds or just let it wash over you? Does it have enough power to make you think of “comfort”?

Here’s a picture. The graphic artist was lead to choose clouds with blue color sky in the background. They are an inspirational “prime” for “comfort”.

However, participants were given no hint to look at them like we just gave you.

Sofa task with comfort prime

A different group of participants received the alternative “prime”, shown below. It has identical text but the artist chose a money theme (pennies floating). The artist chose green for the background color. (In the United States, all printed money is green – with the slang name of “greenbacks”.)

Will this make you “price” conscious? That is the question.

sofa task with price prime

And now your decision, please

Next, both groups received the follow-up page below. The information links gave choices related to both sofa price and comfort.

Note that prior research showed that with no prime involved, people rated the Knightsbridge sofa higher than Palisades on both comfort (11% higher on a 7-point scale) and price (28% higher). This validates that participants in the current study can visually determine on their own which sofa has the higher price as well as higher quality.

So, will participants select links related to their “prime”?

information screen for sofa task

The envelope, please

The researchers found that people who were primed (“inspired”) with the cloud background were more likely to chose the “Comfort” and “Dimensions” links. Participants primed with the pennies background tended to choose the “Price” and “Styling” links.

How did they measure that?

The researchers used several methods to contrast the impact of the two primes.

1. Time spent viewing supporting information pages
Those primed for Comfort spent about twice as long in the two comfort-related information pages (13.96 seconds) than in the two price-related pages (6.82 seconds).

Those primed on Price spent about 28 percent longer time in the price-related pages (14.5 seconds) than in the comfort-related pages (11.40 seconds).

2. Percent of participants choosing the cheap sofa
Among those primed for Comfort, only 39.5 percent chose the cheaper sofa, whereas 49 percent of those primed for Price chose the cheaper sofa.

(This 49 percent also applies to another group of participants who got no prime whatsoever, but still selected the cheaper sofa.)

Here’s another way of stating the outcome. Among the 49 percent of “market share” who would normally have chosen the cheaper sofa about 9.5 percent shifted to selecting the more expensive sofa due to the Comfort-related prime. This shift represents 20% of those that would normally settle for the cheaper sofa. (9.5% is about 20% of 49 %.)

This shift demonstrates the power of a graphical “inspiration” connoting Comfort.

3. Allocation of 100 points between cheap and expensive sofa products
As a check on the sincerity of choosing their final purchase, participants also allocated 100 “points” between the two products to reflect their relative preferences.

The results replicated the shift in “market share” among participants based on their prime (see 2 above).

4. Replication with cars as choices
Each participant was also asked to decide which of two cars to purchase after receiving a Pricing prime or a “Quality” prime in the opening Web page. The magnitude and direction of participant decisions reflected a similar influence of price and quality-related primes.

Inspirational primes: non-verbal and fast

Of course, what we have just read reflects just one research study. Science moves ahead by verifying findings with other studies. See more on first impressions of travel sites.

Indeed, the overall research on the impact of “priming” over the last 10-15 years shows clearly that we humans are susceptible to “first impressions” of many types.

In the final analysis, we are not given the privilege to say whether these first impressions are rational – or not so rational.

Many people have a definition of “rational” that differs from other more well-informed folks.

Witness the recent debacle of sub-prime, adjustable mortgage rates. Companies sold those financial instruments with only short-term profits in mind. The long-term impact faded from view given our social ethos of “buy now or lose out”.

Although many would call those sellers (and buyers) “irrational”, did our entire culture “prime” us to ignore rationally predictable changes in interest rates? Are we primed to think: “the future be dammed?” Probably so. Television ads never lie. Or do they?

My last prime for you

Given this knowledge of how to inspire our customers during their seven seconds of first-impression, we appear to carry some responsibility for offering not just any choice, but “good” choices.

We have some power. But like the Hobbits of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, we must use that power well.

So while we’re doing our design work, why not throw in the idea of offering choices that make life better for everyone on our planet?

Does the prime “sustainability” or “green” or “non-GMO” have a chance? I think it’s getting a toe-hold. Do you?


Kim, H. and Fesenmaier, D.. 2008. Persuasive design of destination web sites: an analysis of first impression. Journal of Travel Research 47, (1), 3-13.

Mandel, N. and Johnson, E.J., 2002. When web pages influence choice: effects of visual primes on experts and novices. Journal of Consumer Research, 29, (2) 235-245.

Lukaiti, A. and Dave, B., 2009. Capturing the mature traveler: assessing web first impressions. Issues in Informing Science and Information Technology, 6, 845-853

HFI Trainer John Sorflaten, PhD, CPE, CUA, discusses socially responsible design but with a compelling prolog.