How attractive is your website

Posted by Swaroop C H on August 18, 2008 Filed under: adobe, design, tech

I was trying to analyze the feedback on my website's new design. There seems to be a trend that relates their usage of the website with their feedback.

While researching on this subject, I found a paper by three people affiliated with the University of Manchester, UK. The paper makes three interesting hypotheses that are eventually proved in their paper:

  1. User preference will be determined by interactions between decision criteria and subject background, specifically design-training and aesthetics, culture and identity.
  2. User intentions will be determined by interactions between decision criteria and the task context; specifically, serious use will favor usability and content, less serious use will favor aesthetics.
  3. User judgment will be determined by interactions among decision criteria; specifically, positive aesthetics will over-rule poor usability.

They randomly asked students to consider three departments for either a one-month summer internship or a five-year PhD. Based on this, they were asked to judge the department websites. The three departments were under the same university, Stanford - the Design department, the HCI website and the D-School website.

What was interesting to note was that most of them rated the D-school best when asked to consider the one-month summer internship. But when the task was shifted to the five-year PhD, they all rated the HCI website better! All other constraints remained unchanged - the same university, the same websites, the same variation in backgrounds of people, etc.

From my understanding of the results, people prefer less-aesthetic websites for serious/regular usage . Perhaps this explains why advanced users prefer Gmail vs Yahoo! Mail - one focuses on simplicity and elegance while the other focuses on usability and attractiveness.

On the other hand, the study "suggests that users’ overall impression of a website could be a determinant of user satisfaction and system acceptability, even overcoming poor usability experience and poor content"

Perhaps this explains why we are okay with a not-so-great UI on the website but still use it because it has great value since it solves a "critical" issue of buying train tickets. Yet, we wouldn't have tolerated this kind of UI for other purposes. For example, such a UI could have never worked for a survey website or a form-builder. That's exactly why has to have such a great UI.

This reminds me of an amazing talk by Geoffrey Moore in an internal Adobe conference. He explained the different types of innovation : product leadership, customer intimacy and operational excellence, which in turn have four types each. The trick for a good company is to have aligned vectors of innovation where they have to excel, and non-aligned vectors of innovation where they have to be "good enough".

So, in terms of websites, ideally, a website should have to either excel at content and service and be good enough at the aesthetics, or should excel at aesthetics and be good enough at content and service. It does NOT need to excel at both (but of course, it's good if you can).


Manish Jethani says:

Too often usability and aesthetics are clubbed together, when in fact they're two entirely different things. Google is the best example of this: I don't think any of their stuff is aesthetically appealing -- their search page in particular is as plain as one can be -- but they score very high on usability in almost every product they make (take Google Talk, Google Reader, even Google Maps). You can use eye candy to cover up for poor usability, but it's not going to fly for too long.

Regarding IRCTC, isn't it true that they're a monopoly? If you're a monopoly you can get dish out any kind of crap to your users.

Sridhar says:

IMHO websites design shouldn't matter for a blog like yours (well I know there is other stuff too here.. but blog makes 90% of it). Most users will check your website once and then subscribe to the rss feed.
Design is an issue for websites like digg/craigslist/gmail where some sort of interaction is required.

Arky says:

Swaroop, the design needs of blog is quite different other from other websites ,, a lot thought have to be given to your target segment in case of technical blogs I guess the quicker they can summerize the gist of the post the better.

I tend to follow the traditional approach mentioned in one of the HCI research paper published years ago, shall see if I can dig it up for you.

Paul-Sebastian says:

Great point!

Swaroop says:

@Manish Well said. You're right, usability and aesthetics are two different things.

Regarding IRCTC, yes, it's true that it's a monopoly (although I heard that it won't be for long) on online ticketing, but we still do use the website because it is useful.

@Sridhar I disagree:

First impressions matter.
A significant number of readers visit the website every N days to read rather than using a feed reader (they don't know what that is, apparently).
The 90% is going to change in the coming months.

@Arky The focus this time was to spotlight the content.

Gopinath Mavinkurve says:

Aesthetics of a webpage should match the content. For a subject like art, photography and such subjects, it is important to make a style statement with your web design. In fact, the style should be aligned to the subject matter. It would not be appealing to have a jazzy webpage only to blast your politicians and write about current affairs.

My blog is a humor blog. Do visit and let me know if it is "attractive".

Ranjan says:

Happy to discover your blog.

I would like more info on usability experience and its measurement. I am a newbie and hv done my Joomla site without knowing a bit of coding.

Even for the content, r there some metrics? I mean how do I decide that my content is fair/satisfactory/good/excellent? (Btw, if these r dumb questions, blame it on my newbieness!!)

Swaroop says:

@Gopinath The first thought that came to my mind on visiting your website was that there is not enough visual emphasis on the main content, there needs to be some kind of separation of parts :)

@Ranjan There are no real metrics for content.

One possible approach is to check your referrer logs and see if the searches that are leading to your website are the right kind of searches that you expect. For example, if you are writing about personal finance, are searches for, example, "personal finance howto india" leading to your website?

Another approach is using websites such as Website Grader.

Of course, the best approach would still be getting lot of feedback from readers and other people discussing what you have written.


There's no comment box, but please do email me or tweet me your thoughts and criticisms, and I will publish the relevant ones here.