Imagine you’re house hunting, and one of the prospective homes your realtor shows you is a dated 1970s monstrosity with impractical orange shag carpet and a split-level floorplan that causes everyone to trip on stairs. You’d run out the door and find a new realtor, right?
Well, this is a very similar experience that users could have when faced with an outdated look-and-feel on a website, app, or software. Judgment happens quickly in HCI (human computer interaction), and in order to keep your users engaged with a digital product or experience, it must not simply be easy to accomplish audience-specific tasks, but also have an enjoyable visual impact. Modern design principles allow users to quickly judge the experience to–come with an expectation of positivity.
We absolutely judge a book by its cover. In a 2002 Stanford study, half of all users who participated “assessed the credibility of websites based in part on the appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size, and color schemes.” In this study, the “design look” of a website won over the structure, information bias, and readability.
Overall, the experience must flow and behave as the user expects, or frustration and pain points may also cause a user to run for the hills. But this must be paired with an aesthetically pleasing experience in order to be completely effective as a credible and trustworthy tool.
This is where a modern and streamlined UI (user interface) design, backed by a thoughtful UX (user experience) plan step into the process of website or app creation.
It’s not just an old adage– you truly never get a second chance to make a first impression. In a 2012 study by Google on understanding aesthetic judgments, users tend to judge a digital tool within seconds. This judgment is filtered through the user’s previous life experience, perception of hierarchy, understandability, navigability, and more. So, when developing design objectives, keep in mind that you don’t have much time to establish initial impressions of credibility within a userbase. So, the onboarding screens or above-the-fold navigation and information must be clear, simple, easy to understand, and enjoyable to look at.
Visual Appeal and Beauty
In the same 2012 Google study, it is shown that visual appeal and beauty are signs of credibility:
“The visual appeal, attractiveness, beauty, or aesthetics of user interfaces has become a topic of major interest in HCI. Numerous studies show the influence of aesthetics on the relationship to usability, trust and credibility, and overall impression.”
But, how do we know what is objectively “beautiful”?
User research is the primary way to get our own feelings and emotions out of the way and to become more objective as to how to best design for our audience. In a famous Gmail design team user research study, they tested 50 different shades of blue to find the best one for their product. Without the benefit of a huge built-in user base, how does a designer reach such objective results?
We can also research best practices and design trends when beginning a project in order to create universally visually appealing designs. A design portfolio site such as Dribbble.com is a consistently reliable design resource for modern and visually appealing creative designs. There is a userbase of designers both posting solutions to common design problems, as well as critiquing and praising each other’s work on a daily basis. However, when one takes inspiration from certain creative solutions, keep in mind that they should still match the user’s expectations and not be too “creative.”
The minimalism architecture movement strives for beauty in the simplicity of form, color, and complexity, lending a sense of calm and focus. Similarly, a website or application with greater visual simplicity, plenty of whitespace, and to-the-point copy will calm and focus users to achieve their required tasks.
According to the aforementioned Google study, “more complex websites are perceived as being less beautiful than less complex websites.”
As we’ve all experienced in relationships, consistency has a tendency to equate to reliability. This is the same for digital experiences–a user expects consistency both externally, matching their expectations, and internally from screen to screen within an application or website.
This is exactly why I’m especially detail-oriented when it comes to checking corner radii and padding spacing in design reviews for each sprint with developers on my project team. Consistency is king. This also applies to color palette, iconography, font hierarchies, brand style considerations, and anything else that can fit into a website style guide.
At UDig, we take to heart that user and customer retention is directly affected by a digital product’s credibility, intrinsically linked to a modern visual design. We believe that a successful digital product needs to be expertly crafted through a process of careful research, purposeful design, and detail-oriented technology.
About the Author
Erin Lessin is a four-time Webby Award-winning Creative Director, with a Marketing, User Experience, and Product Design background. Erin has a 19-year track record of design leadership for projects that produced digital products, branding, and marketing materials for clients that range from startups to Fortune 100 companies. Erin approaches business problems with a user-first design solutioning mindset, that produces tangible ROI results via beautiful, simple, and easy-to-use modern visual designs. She can be found on LinkedIn and Dribbble.