Christine Phillips* & Barbara S. Chaparro

Summary. This study examines the effects of visual appeal and usability on user performance and satisfaction with a website. Users completed search and exploratory tasks on sites which varied in visual appeal (high and low) and usability (high and low). Results indicate that first impressions are most influenced by the visual appeal of the site. Users gave high usability and interest ratings to sites with high appeal and low usability and interest ratings to sites with low appeal. User perceptions of a low appeal website were not significantly influenced by the site’s usability even after a successful experience with the site. Another finding suggested users actively searching for information were more aware of usability issues than users who simply explored a site.


Perceived usability of a website by a user is often more influential than the actual product efficiency and ease of use. The visual appeal of an interface appears to play a role in the user’s rating on perceived usability. For example, Kurosu & Kashimura (1995) found that users reported an aesthetically appealing ATM interface easier to use than an unappealing or bland ATM interface. Tractinsky, Katz & Ikar (2000) also investigated ATM interfaces and found that the more aesthetically pleasing interfaces were judged to be more usable, despite actual usability. Brady and Phillips (2003) found that participants ranked websites with good balance and color as more usable than websites with unbalanced and poorly selected color schemes.

The importance of visual appeal of websites has shown that aesthetics play an important role in first impressions of a website and that they may form in as little as 50ms (Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek, & Brown, 2006). The role of first impressions on a website is very important as there is evidence that they may be long-lasting. Lindgaard & Dudek (2002) suggest that this occurs due to the confirmation bias (Mynatt, Doherty, & Tweeney, 1977, Klayman & Ha, 1987) which states that people tend to seek confirming evidence of their initial impressions and ignore disconfirming evidence. So, if a user likes the appearance of a website when they first see it, they may continue to like it regardless of how successful they are in using the site.

In the Lindgaard & Dudek (2002) study, participants completed tasks using a website with high aesthetic appeal and low usability. Participants did not change their ratings of aesthetic value after using the site with low usability; however, they did report lower satisfaction with the site. The authors suggested that this indicates that satisfaction and perception of aesthetic appeal of a website may be independent of one another. However, more research is needed as this study did not examine websites that were low in aesthetic appeal. Therefore, it is not known what would happen to user satisfaction or ratings of appeal when working with a low appeal website with high usability. Likewise, it is unclear how much influence the tasks users do with the site have on perceptions of satisfaction and appeal. Does a site’s usability influence users more if they are searching for specific information than if they are simply browsing?

The purpose of this study was to further examine the relationship between website usability, aesthetic appeal, and user satisfaction both before and after completing tasks that are directed (Search) vs non-directed (Browse). It was expected that the aesthetic appeal and usability of the website would impact user perceptions, performance, and satisfaction of the sites viewed. Specifically, it was expected that the participants would:

  • Have more positive first impressions of the high appeal site than the low appeal site.
  • Have more positive final impressions of sites with high usability than with low usability.
  • Be influenced more by the site’s usability when searching a site than when simply exploring the site.


An attractive homepage entices users to view more of the site and creates feelings of interest and initial satisfaction. If the homepage is unattractive, users do not appear to be interested, nor do they desire more interaction with the site. Designers must develop a homepage that not only attracts user’ attention but also engages them. This research suggests that an attractive site is more likely to pull in users than an unattractive site regardless of how well it is designed from a usability standpoint. An unattractive site, despite high usability, does not attract user interest and maintains low satisfaction.