Site Aesthetics Vs. Customer Involvement
Posted 25 October 2007 - 01:55 AM
This is my first post, so I hope no-one minds that it's a fresh topic. It is, to an extent, a follow-on from a previous topic of "Ugliness vs Effectiveness" but I didn't want to hijack the post with such a lengthy question.
I recently read an article by Gerry McGovern on how, in many instances, "ugly" web site are far more effective than their aesthetically superior cousins. The core theme is the trade-off between raw usability and site aesthetics.
This got me thinking about perceived risk and the level of customer involvement in the purchasing process. In a real world situation, buying a bottle of water is a far less "risky" and "involved" purchase than buying clothing or, to a greater extent, a car. As the seller of a bottle of water, we need to do far less to decrease perceived risk in the following areas:
- Financial Risk - if the customer is unsure about which brand or flavour of water to buy, it's not a financial disaster if he/she gets it wrong. If it turns out that elderberry-lotus sparkling mineral water isn't hit cup of tea (or water) then he/she is in a position to buy another.
- Social Risk - the less preferable brand of water isn't going to massively effect a person's social status (though I do know some people who will ONLY drink Evian - taste or brand? Who knows...).
- Durability Risk - it's there, you drink it, it's gone. It doesn't need to be durable for any extended period of time, nor does it need to worry about staying in fashion.
These are, however, far bigger issues in other more involved purchases. Purchasing a car, for example, requires the customer to think long and hard about the purchase's effect on their pocket, their social kudos and their physical safety. Therefore, as the seller we need to do much more to reassure customers. A car showroom will not only display the newly-waxed car in question; it will do everything in its power to ensure that potential customers feel confident about the car, the brand and the purchase.
In these high involvement purchases, aesthetics play a big part in inferring brand and product quality. In the car showroom, the designer boutique and the high-end electronics store, we are surrounded by well-dressed staff, immaculately clean surroundings and elaborate marketing materials - and they work! They not only make us feel secure, they enable us to infer aspects of quality that help to justify the high price tag dangled infront of us.
The Web is somewhat different. The transparency of the purchasing process means that we are often looking at price as a far more determining factor, and are willing to make trade-offs in "showroom" aesthetics due to the ease of price comparison, informational search etc. But as more and more people become e-shoppers, and the ability of large e-tailers to match the lowest prices extends, can we afford to make a trade-off between usability and site aesthetics? More importantly, is "it's usable so it doesn't matter if it's ugly" going to fly as more people utilise the Internet for high-involvement purchases?
Thanks for reading
Posted 25 October 2007 - 02:57 AM
I think it's obvious that a website needs to be appealing to the target audience to sell high end stuff, such as cars, boats, houses, etc.
As for cheap or even cheapest stuff, as long as the product is good, aesthetics don't seem to matter much. Personal trust with the website, social proof (testimonials) and proven results of the product is what matters, in such cases. (A high end website would rather inspire trust, too.)
Then again, I am sure minimalist and ascetic people would prefer functon over form in many high end stuff. Alternatively, some people may buy medium stuff just for style.
As usual, it depends
Edited by A.N.Onym, 25 October 2007 - 02:58 AM.
Posted 25 October 2007 - 05:22 AM
The buit I still cannot grasp is why people make an assumption of Looks agaisnt Perfermance.
Ugly works better than pretty?
OMG - so we now have "blonde"websites agaisnt the "slightly tubby reds with braces" ?
(NOTE: I like tubby reds, with/without braces every bit as much as blondes... brunettes... small female martians... large Plutonian women....)
Still - perceived risk....
Oaky - you have 50,000, you are going to buy a car.
Do you buy it from the local garage, the car lot guy down the road, go to a flashy showroom or contact the main dealer?
Does it actually make that much difference?
Too some yes - I've known people who will not buy a new car from anyone other than the dealership - other who won't step foot into one of those places as they think they will get covered in slime.
So, depents on the target, right?
Additionally, you need to create an "air of trust"... I wouldn't say "pretty" cuits it - but "professional" would.
The site needs to look "reliable", look like it is "official" and not look shabby, quirky etc.
This starts covering the Market... if you sell diamonds, you don't dress like a peanut seller!
Iamge is not necessarily everything... but it goes a long way.
So cover Branding, arket appeal, target audience focus etc.
Also, Ugly/Pretty boils down to preferenec,you may love that rich grey site with red emphasis... I'll hate it.
Won't stop me buying from them though.
Posted 25 October 2007 - 06:26 AM
The real issue is usability has a well known set of test procedures and the testing methodologies for aesthectics are far less well known. (BTW, they fall under desirability design)
In other words, while people may test a variety of elements for usability, they don't know where to begin with aesthetics. This skews the discussion to false either / or choices.
Usability would have all shoppers, online or off, to just the exact product they came to the site for and out. Store owners (this would be offline) long ago realized this is a recipe for disaster. They largely haven't made this realization online for one simple reason.
Almost nobody knows how to keep the user on a site longer through any means other than poor usability. They have no methodology or test results which indicate how to lengthen the user's stay in a good way.
Radiohead either has to declare bankruptcy or show a different way.
A music download you can pay whatever you want for is an important example here. It is a digital product, governed by digital economics which argues nobody should pay above zero for that good. That's a basic proposition of buyers as rational, and one basis for this transparency argument for online stores.
Face it. What's more usable and efficient for task completion than skipping your proposed store entirely and going to the well-known, credible big box retailer site?
When you're not a Walmart or even a Radiohead, it's all about the customer experience or you are simply going to be out of business. It's far more 'usable' to go to a bigger, more well known, store for bottled water for 95-99% of purchases. Arguing from the point of user habituation and task completion and credibility of the big box, well known retailer, the most usable thing you can offer the users is less choice -- don't have a store at all. The only thing you're doing is cluttering the SERP with a distracting no-name alternative the user task path will be cluttered up with learning about you, coming to trust you over time, etc.
Walmart has all the advantages, including the ability to fund a usability team. A team whose only function is the make their site more usable than whatever you can come up with. Sorry, but cutting all of three seconds off the task path isn't going to pull off a usability coup.
Why Your Site Doesn't Need to be Pretty http://www.imediacon...ontent/6878.asp shows the alternative. Your site doesn't have to be pretty -- in the estimation of graphic artists -- it has to have message to market match. That is an aesthetic, just not an aesthetic set by the whims of people who aren't the user of the site.
Visual merchandising is everything making sites pretty isn't. Making a site comply with the bandwagon aesthetic isn't branding -- it's business camouflage. Branding success more often means selecting an aesthetic which differentiates your site from competitors.
Witness the success of Dove's campaign for real beauty. Sales skyrocketed within months.
That's aesthetic strategy done right. And it is practically unknown in the world of "make my site pretty."
Edited by DCrx, 25 October 2007 - 06:33 AM.
Posted 25 October 2007 - 07:32 AM
Lots of people talk about effective design, etc. but in my opinion these articles are largely opinion of "what they think their visitors think" - lots of room for being wrong there. These articles should be backed up with the analytics of the A/B test - maybe even C/D, E/F, G/H, I/J... until a more optimal page is discovered.
Posted 25 October 2007 - 09:48 AM
If your design pops people's eyes out then your merchandise or your articles might look drab in comparision. Maybe it's best to have design that sits in the background so that the merchandise stands high on the page.
I suspect these sites do more for selling PhotoShop, Flash, and the design services of whoever did the layout. If you're paying attention to the layout, you're not paying attention to the site content. On the other hand, I equally fault the producers of content which uses the pretty layout as a crutch ....if the drab content can't match the layout, that's not always the fault of the designer.
Some clients are looking for the layout to make up for a lack of imagination in finding or developing selling points in the product. For every pretty layout there is a buyer.
(Sorry for the broken record): Sites like jewelboxing or if you want to see a flash version, check out triggerpacks are visual merchandising, using aesthetics to sell.
Again this is not about Asethetics versus Effectiveness. It's about using the visual story and aesthetics of the product (visual merchandising) versus showing off with a graphics program (graphic design).
Edited by DCrx, 25 October 2007 - 01:21 PM.
Posted 26 October 2007 - 09:55 AM
If you read through the previous posts, and those in related/similar topic threads, and the materials referenced, there "seems" to be a strong trend towards the following sentiments;
Pretty generally means poor usability.
Pretty menas poor content.
Pretty means that the market is not understood.
Now, Im damn certain that is not what is being said.... surely there should be words similar to;
possible, most likely, potentially.... amongst all of this?
Having a pretty site does not MEAN poor usability, nor that your content is naff or that you have no idea of your market. It also doesn't mean that someoe IS showing off (thought it MAY be the case).
Same as having an ugly site does not mean that you have good content, have an understanding of your visitors or that you have superb usability.
I could jsut as easily state that anyone who doesn't make a pretty site lacks graphical skill, or those that make ugly sites simply do not understand design.
Neither of those statements would be absolutely correct - there may be those which those statemetns suit... but many others that choose such a path/design/image for alternate reasons.
As for testing - again we hit a situation that is based primarily on budget, and this means it applies mostly to larger companies and ignores the little busiesses or those with financial concerns.
That much testing takes time and resources, equating to a substantial amount of money.
Further, from experience, most people misunderstand the questioning process, and will also misrepresent the results -s statstistcs are a very dangerous tool, and can turn in someones hands very easily with careless thought.
So not only will companies haveto pay and take time for these tests, there is no gaurentee that the data returned has any substance or use - or that the figures they get are interpreted correctly.
Testing is important, as is following the trends and leading examples if they seem suitable.
The warning is becareful -as what you pay for may not be what you get, nor what you want/need/expect.
What would be nice is a whole bunch of true studies, conducted thoroughly, to see what people actually do/think/feel when facing different designs, layouts and page structures.... then again with differing content.
Onlythen... and I mean OLY THEN can people make factual statements that are proven, otherwise it's purely "trend folowing", which is not the same as actually knowing or understanding.
Just thought I'd throw that lot out in one go
As for the "perceived risk"...
"if you looked at two sites; one with smart graphics, fancy images and looked like a professional brochure, whilst the other looked like it was simply text in sectional boxes, which would you trust to buy from".
Thats the simplest question, based solely on visuals.
From there, you would need to ask them about finding poor grammar and spelling errors...things being in slightly unusual places (search in thefooter etc.).
I personally, would expect that the "undressed" sites, those without all the pretty stuff, though not exactly ugle, may perform less well for the "general public".
Once you start getting into market sectors with professionals, the looks start to matter a little less, though a more visually appealing site is still probably going to come of better.
The reasoning behind this?
We are conditioned to perceive pretty as better!
In almost all cultures, it is accepted that ugly is unsuitable, that pretty is prime and that you go for the visual appeal - it happens in all walks of life, and all levels of society - it is in our very nature.
You trust people in a suit and tie more than the guy in shabby shoes and shorts - thats why we have uniforms - it forms a cohesion between employees, and makes outsiders view the unifromed folk in a particualrly manner - we tend to ignore cleaners and identify security/police etc as being "safe" etc.
That is valid, proven and statistical
Lets see if we can have the samefor the net some day soon
Posted 26 October 2007 - 10:37 AM
1. Pretty is nice. It keeps someone on the site long enough to get lost or succeed in a task.
2. Ugly is fine. If it offers a product or service someone REALLY needs or wants, and communicates the most necessary information right away (price, availability, meets customer requirements, etc.), visitors will stay on the site.
3. Both pretty and ugly fail when they throw the visitors out of the site because they failed to design solid click paths to the successful completion of tasks. I write about this in my blog often. Even the big corporate sites with skilled designers forget the logical details, like call to action prompts when the user needs to take the next step in a process.
People are highly tolerant when given what they want and easily frustrated when a web page makes them feel stupid, even if it's attractive.
The majority of sites, no matter what they look like, don't deliver USER CENTERED design because they're not tested and USED by people who haven't built it.
Finally, usability testing is not a budget breaker. There are many types and methods that meet any budget
Posted 27 October 2007 - 02:19 AM
Thank you all for the detailed opinions and further exploration of the topic - it's greatly appreciated!
I personally believe that site aesthetic is a usability issue - anything that can aid a customer in making a purchase or completing their goal is, in my opinion, a usability issue. With potential for visually stunning graphics I do think a comprimise is sometimes needed between the two; and all to often web site design is approached as "art" rather than "function". This of course depends on many factors, including industry, the goal of the site and the company's positioning strategy.
Unless you're aiming to imply "being cheap" with your site aesthetics (which is a tactic that works for many), I don't believe usability can be cited as a reason for poor branding/design in this day and age. Creating a distinct customer journey that leads to goal completion is obviously the key, and both usability and site aesthetics play a part in this.
In my experience, site aesthetics infer the qualities of the web site that the user seeks, keeping them from getting better acquainted with Mr. Back; the start of their journey. Usability facilitates the progression through the site to goal completion.
Feels great to discuss usability Is that a bad thing?
Posted 27 October 2007 - 10:07 AM
Feels great to discuss usability biggrin.gif Is that a bad thing?
Here? We love usability topics. That's why the topic is the first forum in the list
(That, and if anyone moves it, mom will take away TV for a week.)
Posted 27 October 2007 - 04:44 PM
For example, one thing I've learned about sites marketing to scientists is that they tend to dislike "pretty". It's not that they dislike it per se, but there's a lot of stuff that designers do that designers think is pretty that scientists find off-putting. Advertising in the industry is full of beautiful women wearing lab coats and safety glasses. Scientist hate that sort of thing. They love usability. They love content. Anything other than that tends to irritate them.
I have another client selling selling a wearable technology. Does their presentation need to be pretty? YES. Does it work better with beautiful women and gorgeous guys wearing it? Yes.
Posted 27 October 2007 - 07:29 PM
I also agree with Autocrat in that there seems to be an assumption that because something looks good, the content is poor. And with DCrx and cline; how content should be presented is obviously market-specific, tailored to the market.
It depends, you know?
Posted 27 October 2007 - 07:45 PM
Aesthetics is subjective. Therefore you need to understand and design to the aesthetics of your target audience to maximise ROI. What attracts and distracts them, what call to action grabs or repulses them, them not you the designer. Most sites default to what I call web-bland, it is safe because it is the expected norm but it misses a lot of potential revenue. Some go garish/ugly often super-sizing the 'money' links to give an obvious exit to the nauseated visitor but these sites will always need new victims as few will willingly return.
Trust is subjective. Design a nice 'secure' logo, link to a page telling how wonderfully wonderful you are, stick the logo wherever appropriate. Instant trust. Write some glowing testimonials with pretty head shots and nice full names. Instant Trust. Completely bogus instant trust. The logo programs you pay to join - as long as you keep paying and don't get convicted - are just as good as the pretend ones. Completely bogus instant trust. On the web trust is who is linking to you and what they are saying. Buy a few links today. Sorry, but the sad truth is that caveat emptor is the law of the web. If a site delivers on it's promises it is trustworthy, all else is smoke and mirrors. And credit card buyers protection.
Usability has subjective parameters but is largely objective: can you get there from here? is the way well marked? can you do the task in the fewest number of steps? are the steps simple and well labeled? is appropriate help available each stop along the way? can you retrace your steps easily? what barriers exist, why are they there, are they necessary, can they be bypassed in need? etc.
If a site isn't easily usable (the cheaper the product the quicker people will leave upon meeting an obstacle) the aesthetics simply do not matter. However, once a site is broadly usable matching design elements with target audience cultural preferences and then delivering upon your promises will greatly increase retention, recommendations, branding, conversions, and ROI.
Posted 27 October 2007 - 08:50 PM
Aesthetics targeted to the specific audience is a good thing. It's kind of a corollary to sales and how to approach specific types of customers.
Posted 27 October 2007 - 09:30 PM
My comments were general based on the OP - between my slow four finger typing and not checking prior to posting I didn't read yours until after.
Right. I wasn't arguing that...
Indeed, I have now tried hard (three times!) to find something in your post (#13) to disagree with...and could not.
Posted 27 October 2007 - 09:37 PM
Anyway, hard to argue when we're pretty much on the same page.
Posted 28 October 2007 - 07:11 AM
What about the perceived risk... ...iamlost... made some damn fine points.... but people that buy a car are seldomly goingto be back within a few weeks/Months.
Maybe there is a "way" to impress upon the visitor a much more "instant" method of "trust me"?
I myself would provide FAQ's and Linksto "known" sites... particularly one with useful info regard laws, regualtions etc.
As with many sales techniques, it is important to "bond" with the potential customer - the hard part is that your site is general "static"... so instead, you have to be seen to be going out of your way to be "helpful"... not necessarily to close a sale, but to genuinely keep them informed and assisted.
Make contacting the busiess easy.
Provide telephone details.
Include a page of "How To"... and maybe even a "if you are having a problem, try this" page.
I've always found a "Feed Back" page gets a few good uses (though not as may as I'd like).
Though technically the same as a "contact us page"... with a little extra wording, and a slightly different form, you make the user aware that you went out of your way to provide this extra page and form just to hear from them.
Lots of little things build up a "relationship".... no different than the first meeting of someone.
You have to appear friendly, considerate and interested in the same sort of thigns. You have to be iterested in them as well. If you can manage to do one thing to help them a little that few others do... you should have it bagged.
(Note: these are the same methods used for Selling and Conning people - so they work! Just figure how to include them into a website )
Posted 28 October 2007 - 08:57 AM
Agreed. I wonder if some part of this trust vs. value determination customers make is now impacted by the general knowledge that scammers and smaller competitors have learned to make their offers as 'pretty' as some of the bigger players.
Autocrat says: "these are the same methods used for Selling and Conning people - so they work! Just figure how to include them into a website"
Does 'pretty' mean less to a customer today, now that 'pretty' is more easily attained by even one-person operations?
And how does 'template look' impact 'prettiness'? How much does uniqueness affect our perception of 'pretty'?
Posted 28 October 2007 - 10:11 AM
I always suggest avoiding "template" looking sites... they lack uniqueness, and to me, suggest a lack of thought and personal touch in a site.
As for folk knowing about Cons and Sales techniques... lmao.
best way to do either is to make the "client" feel superior and more knowing - give them enough rope as it were - people will see what they want and form their own opinions... the trick is to let them think they have done so with no input from you.
Simply pointing out common issues, errors or blunders in the market, lack of service or those "flk tale" examples/scenarios... and people will judge based on those... they cannot really help it
Subtlety disparage the competition, gently suggest failure of others etc... most of your work will be done by the reader.
We've known about con-artists for over 400 years. We've been seeing sales techniques for around 100 years... if anything, we fall for them more and more.
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