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By Lucy Standing, Director of Neutrain

Good Website Design -01

Internet use has been growing exponentially: globally, over 2.4 billion users are online (around 34% of the total world population), which since the year 2000 represents a growth of 566%.  Many of these users are using the internet at work, for work. It makes sense that we, as Business Psychologists interested in understanding what engages people at work, should want to know how websites can best engage people.

So what factors help engage people online?

Whilst wise and clever content is a must – first impressions play a significant role in predicting whether or not we will engage with a website.

Lingaard (2006) found it only takes 50 milliseconds for people to make a reliable first impression of a site.  Within three seconds, they either stay or abandon a site. Research indicates a range of factors which help to formulate those all-important first impressions.

1) Keep it simple

Too much information leads to cognitive overload.  A balance of white space to areas of interest (AOI) is important.  George Miller in 1956 coined the use of the term the ‘magic number 7’. We struggle to process and remember more than 7 numbers. This applies to websites too.  If there are too many AOI’s (e.g a logo, a menu, a picture are each different AOI’s) people can’t see the wood for the trees and will have to work too hard to understand what your site is there to do.

2) Visual perception

We are daylight creatures and our eyes have evolved to see dark against light. So it is not surprising that text written on a pale background is easier to read than light text on a dark background.  We are naturally drawn to sites with pale backgrounds because they are easier for us to perceive.

3) Images

People attend to logos and images over and above anything else as these communicate more instant information; an important time saver for the user scanning content.

4) User experience

Reigning guru of web usability, Jakob Neilsen declared: “users spend most of their time on other sites. Thus anything that is a convention and used on the majority of other sites will be burned into the users brains and you can only deviate from it on pain of major usability problems”. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t innovate, but it does mean we shouldn’t operate in a vacuum without any understanding of how people currently use websites.


Building a good website requires understanding the basic psychology of your users.  Getting this right means you’re more likely to meet their needs which is an important first step in building a relationship with them.  If your website isn’t getting the recognition and attention it deserves it can be tempting to invest in new marketing and branding – or to invest in search engine optimisation, however as a first step, it’s worth using the points above just as a starting point to question if improvements can be made around how the site engages psychologically.

About the Author

Lucy Standing-01Lucy is an Occupational Psychologist and focuses her energy in the areas of management development, employee assessment and selection and the effective management of diversity.

Lucy has extensive experience applying practical psychology through her work as both a consultant and in-house psychologist at one of the world’s largest investment banks.

Hear Lucy speak

If you’ve enjoyed this article and would like to hear more about shaping risk culture, Lucy will be speaking speaking at the ABP’s March London Local Event on Tuesday 18th March 2014, 6-8pm, University of Westminster.

During this interactive session, Lucy will explore some of the main factorsthat can make the difference to good website design. Reviewing real websites and asking questions such as: why doesn’t the layout of this site work? Why and when do we feel cognitive dissonance?  What impact does space have on our first impressions? How can we engage with how people feel as well as how people think?

To book or find out more about this event click here.

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