First Impressions & Why They Matter in User Research

Ever wonder if first impressions matter in user research? The answer might surprise you. Read on to learn more!

Author

Kham Chakhap

Date

April 18, 2024

As much as we’d like to think our decisions are conscious and logical, that is far from the actual truth. According to Harvard professor Gerald Zaltman, 95% of our decision-making takes place in the subconscious mind. User researchers need to take into account how this influences decision-making while designing a product.

Take an example where you are browsing a new website or app. What is the first thing that captures your attention? It could be an attractive layout or the color scheme or even an ugly-looking logo sticking out like a sore thumb. Within seconds, you have your first impression of the website and can form an opinion on whether you want to leave the website or stay longer. 

In this blog, we will look at first impressions and the important role they play in shaping user experience, as well as how researchers can leverage them to design products that matter to the audience.

What are First Impressions?

First impressions are initial perceptions or opinions formed when you come across something. In the context of user research, it could be the snap judgments you make about a brand or a product. While first impressions are not the be-all and end-all, they are crucial for drawing the attention of new users to your brand, getting them acquainted with your product, and eventually bringing them into the consideration stage of decision-making. First impressions set the tone for creating great user experiences by acting as the first bridge between a product and its customers. 

There is a very small window for brands to create a first positive impact with users. All it takes is the first 50 miliseconds to form an opinion about a website. To put that into context, it is faster than the blink of an eye! There certainly is a lot of factors that goes behind the psychology of how users decide whether they like a product or not.

The Science Behind First Impressions

Let us try to understand how these fast impressions are formed. It all depends on cognitive psychology- in simple words, understanding how people think. Human brains can store large amounts of information, and decision making requires it to process this at a very short period of time which is not always possible. Hence, humans rely on mental shortcuts called heuristics to solve problems and take decisions quickly and efficiently. 

The halo effect is one such heuristic where one positive or negative trait of a brand or product can influence their opinion on the overall brand or product. For example, if you look at a product app and it looks professional and well-designed, you are likely to think it has a good product, even though you have not explored it.

Another important concept is confirmation bias. Here, you would have already formed an impression of the brand. Here, you tend to look for information that re-affirms your impressions and unintentionally ignore information that might challenge or contradict them.

Based on a positive or negative first impression it can work in favor of or against brands, and they must find a way to work around these challenges to win the trust of target audiences.

What Creates an Impactful First Impression?

The key to an impactful first impression is a favorable perception. How individual perceive their surroundings and take decisions ultimately affects their opinions about a product. Take an example of a user opening your website. The first instinct is to throw lot of information at them. However, a user would filter and process only the information that stands out. Brands need to be mindful about what they want users to take away from the first interaction.

Let us look at some key implications of design:

Visual Aesthetics: Ever heard of the saying, “You eat with your eyes first”? Well, the same principle applies for visuals of your product. The more visually appealing your website it, the more credible and trustworthy it is perceived to be. 

Usability: Looks aside, the function needs to be as good. Imagine browsing through a clunky and confusing website. Isn’t it frustrating and makes you want to leave? An intuitive design is a solution that might sound simple, but a lot of thought needs to be put in to building one. That can make a world of difference in your user experience.

Brand Identity: Finally, just as your traits define the kind of person you are, brand elements define the personality of your brand. Branding is a whole experience. Your messaging, positioning, and even a catchy logo should align with what you are trying to convey and how you want your brand to be perceived, and it should be done in a way that resonates with your target audience.

Responsive Design: You want to make your website/ app adaptable across different types of devices. Remember, you want your product to be accessible at all times and that means it needs to run seamlessly on mobile phones, desktops, and all devices in between.

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System 1 vs System 2 Responses in User Research

Let us understand System 1 and System 2 modes of thinking as coined by psychologist Daniel Kahneman and what they mean in the context of user research:

System 1: This mode of thinking is fast and intuitive. It’s the instant reaction you make without much conscious effort and comes from the gut rather than thought. System 1 responses are driven by emotions, instincts, and past experiences. They're quick and can happen almost instantaneously.

System 2: This type is slower, more intentional, and a more methodical way of thinking. Here conscious reasoning, logical thinking, and effortful mental processes are more involved. These responses come in when solving a difficult problem, weigh options, or engage in more critical thinking. They take more time and effort as compared to System 1 responses.

Let us look at these responses within the context of first impressions in user research:

System 1 Responses

Immediate Impressions: When users first encounter your product or service, their System 1 responses kick in. These initial impressions are formed rapidly, often within seconds of interaction. Users rely on instinctual reactions and gut feelings to gauge their overall experience. For example, they might quickly assess the visual appeal of your website or the intuitiveness of your app's interface.

Emotional Impact: System 1 responses are heavily influenced by emotions. Users might feel drawn to your product if it evokes positive emotions like excitement or curiosity. Conversely, negative emotions such as frustration or confusion can lead to an unfavorable first impression. These emotional responses play a significant role in shaping users' overall perception of your brand.

Snap Judgments: System 1 responses involve snap judgments based on heuristics and past experiences. Users rely on shortcuts to quickly evaluate whether your product meets their needs and expectations. This can lead to biases, such as favoring familiar designs or dismissing unfamiliar features.

System 2 Responses

Analytical Assessment: While System 1 responses provide quick initial impressions, System 2 responses involve a more analytical assessment. After the initial interaction, users may engage in deeper cognitive processing to evaluate your product more thoroughly. They may compare it to alternative solutions, assess its functionality, and consider its long-term value.

Critical Evaluation: System 2 responses prompt users to critically evaluate your product's features, benefits, and drawbacks. They may weigh the pros and cons, consider various scenarios, and anticipate how your product will meet their needs over time. This analytical thinking is essential for forming more nuanced and informed opinions.

Decision-Making: Ultimately, System 2 responses influence users' decision-making processes. After carefully evaluating your product, they may decide whether to continue exploring it, make a purchase, or recommend it to others. These decisions are based on a combination of rational reasoning and subjective preferences.

In user research focused on first impressions, it's crucial to consider both System 1 and System 2 responses. By understanding the interplay between instinctual reactions and analytical assessments, you can gain insights into how users perceive your product initially and how those perceptions evolve over time. This holistic approach allows you to identify areas for improvement and design strategies to create positive first impressions that resonate with your target audience.

User Research Tests for First Impressions

Now that we understand the theory of first impressions let us look at how we can make it measurable in user research. Below are a few tests that will capture user behavior and preferences and help you create impactful first impressions:

5-Second Testing: The name suggests the test lasts for five seconds but that is not necessarily true. It is a time-bound test that allows researchers measure if a product or design feature is able to elicit the intended user reaction during a pre-defined time. It can also help you understand the noticeability of certain design elements so that changes can be made accordingly.

A/B Testing: A/B testing helps you choose the best design among different design options, which garners the most user attention and engagement. You can also test your website against a competitor to determine how you are performing against market standards. This will provide an understanding of which design provides the best first impressions and help you narrow down the options to go ahead with.

Usability Testing: Get a deep understanding of how users interact with your product and understand user flows, challenges, and pain points through usability testing. This needs to be conducted often so that improvements are made in order to create a seamless experience.

Brand Perception Surveys: Surveys and questionnaires can be used to learn about user perception and get insights into their first impressions.

In-depth Interviews: One-on-one or focus group discussions allow users to open up about their interactions with the brand and product and convey their opinions and thoughts. Such insights can help brands improve user experience and build trust among target audiences.

Such qualitative and quantitative researches help provide a lens into how a user’s initial thoughts and responses are to your brand or product. Tools like eye tracking, facial coding, etc. allows researchers to get insights which are very unbiased and accurate and provide results that matter in product development and improvement.

Closing Thoughts

First impressions are the gateway to user engagement, shaping how users perceive and interact with your product or service. By understanding the science behind first impressions and leveraging that knowledge in your user research efforts, you can create more impactful, user-centric experiences that leave a lasting impression.

So, make sure you taking into account the role of first impressions while working on your product. Invest in visual appeal, prioritize usability, and craft compelling brand messaging. Because in user research, first impressions matter more than you think.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What do first impressions mean?

When you first meet or encounter a person or situation, you form an initial opinion or perception. That is what is meant by first impressions.

What are the best first impressions?

The best first impressions convey confidence, positivity, warmth, and authenticity. They create a memorable and favorable perception of oneself.

Do first impressions last?

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Yes, first impressions tend to last since they can have a powerful effect on how people perceive things and take decisions. However, it's important to remember that first impressions are not always accurate reflections of a person or situation, and they can evolve over time.

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With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

2

Click on Study templates

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

3

Start from scratch

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

4

Add blocks to the content

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

5

Saving the Template

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

6

Publish the Template

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

1

Log into 

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Suspendisse varius enim in eros elementum tristique. Duis cursus, mi quis viverra ornare, eros dolor interdum nulla, ut commodo diam libero vitae erat. Aenean faucibus nibh et justo cursus id rutrum lorem imperdiet. Nunc ut sem vitae risus tristique posuere.

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

2

Click on Study templates

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

3

Start from scratch

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

4

Add blocks to the content

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

5

Saving the Template

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

6

Publish the Template

With lots of unique blocks, you can easily build a page without coding.

Author Bio

As an intrepid explorer of both physical and intellectual realms, Kham seeks to unravel the intricacies of the human experience and merge them with the transformative power of AI. On odd days, she can be found wandering around trying to find that elusive scenic and quiet café where she can sip on matchas and get lost in the written word.

Kham Chakhap

Product Marketing Specialist

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