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Can you trust me on this?

Can you guess the most frequently cited factor for evaluating the credibility of a Web site?

According to a 2002 study out of Stanford University, it is the “appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size, and color schemes,” (Fogg, et al., 2002). The look and feel of a site influenced judgments about credibility far more than other factors like structure, usefulness of the information, tone of the content, and name recognition!

A different study found that “Web users form first impressions of Web pages in as little as 50 milliseconds (1/20th of a second).” What’s more, these initial attractiveness evaluations based on just a brief exposure “were very highly correlated with attractiveness evaluations of the same pages under unlimited exposure.*

These findings make sense. Think of how quickly we form judgments about people in the first few moments after we meet them. Conversely, think about how our personal appearance (our personal aesthetic) affects the way people perceive us; or how product packaging influences our perception of the product inside. We may know better, but we continue to judge a book by its cover.

Below left is a gas pump near my house. Contrast that with the station shown on the right.

I’ve stopped filling up at the gas station on the left, even though it’s closer to where I live. Why? This kind of maintenance (or lack of maintenance) leaves me unwilling to trust them with my credit card information. Clearly, appearance does affect trust.

So, how do we create trust in our application interfaces, aside from providing the basics, such as reliable information and uptime? Be attentive to visual design, for one thing. Attention to design details implies that the same care and attention has been spent on the other (less visible) parts of the product, which implies that this is a trustworthy product.

I’ve seen many great design comps get butchered during development. Things such as inconsistent fonts, odd padding, line heights, and over-compressed images plagued the final release. While this may never come out during functional testing, how might these sloppy UI details affect perceptions of your product?

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