Your Website Design Matters More Than You Think

Christina Rickabaugh December 23, 2014

In this post, Joe Zeoli, Senior Website and Graphics Developer at Miles Technologies, discusses the psychology concept of The Halo Effect, and how it applies to your website design.

We try to not “judge a book by its cover,” but unfortunately we do it every day without realizing it. There is an extremely well-studied term in social psychology known as “The Halo Effect” where people make snap-judgments about people based on attributes that have nothing to do with each other. We will generally consider a tall and attractive person as more intelligent and honest than a less attractive person even though A & B have nothing to do with C & D. Psychology experiments in almost every industry have proved this, including politics and human resources.

A study conducted at the University of Michigan demonstrates how the Halo Effect can work both negatively and positively. A group of students were showed one of two videos of the same professor with a European accent. The first group was shown a video where he came off as warm and friendly, while in the other he was portrayed as cold and distant. The two groups were then asked to evaluate the professor based on the introductory video.


The first group found his appearance, mannerisms, and accent appealing, whereas those who saw the cold instructor rated these attributes as irritating. Just by watching a single video, the students created a bias about this professor that they kept with them while rating him in areas that had nothing to do with his demeanor.


The Origins of the Halo Effect

The term comes from the religious concept of the halo where Renaissance painters would create bright spherical discs over images of Saints. Anyone looking at the painting would assume traits commonly associated with sainthood with that person just because of the Halo. It was first coined to describe why commanding officers in the Military thought some of their soldiers would make better leaders than others. It describes how influenced we are by first impressions.


What Does the Halo Effect Have to Do with Design?

The Halo effect doesn’t just apply to people; we make quick judgments about everything based of only limited knowledge of the topic. Many times, our first interaction will determine how we judge others part of the system. If the user has a positive first experience, they are more likely to forgive any future errors by the system. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a user that has a hard time creating an account may assume that if the company can’t get the website right, then they can’t have a good product. Even if there is some reason behind this argument, a company can have a bad website and still create a great product. Once a website is seen in a positive light, it makes it much more difficult to cast a shadow on it and vice versa.


Branding can also be influenced by the Halo Effect. One of the best examples of this is Apple and their products. People had such a good experience when they first used an apple product that they are willing to look past any recent flaws (such as the iPhone 4 antenna problem) and flock to get the newest product. The term in this case is used to explain the bias of consumers to a specific brand after a favorable experience.



Take a look at your website and brand and make sure it is a representation of what you want your company to be. Ask customers and users specific questions about what they think of when they go to your site. If what you find isn’t in line with what you want to be portraying, it may be time for a redesign. Just remember that the first interaction is the most important, so make it really count. The user might never see your product if they can’t get past your website.
Have any thoughts, comments or additions you’d make?  Give us a shout in the comments section and we’ll get back to you.

Questions about the first impression your webesite is making on potential customers? Contact us today to speak with a web design expert.


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