Sunday, February 26, 2006
So you're redesigning your website...pt. 2
Web credibility is so important and so hard to understand that Consumers Union actually launched an entire web credibility project (with its own website) to research the things that make a site credible to its readers and encourage sites to abide by standards of credibility. Our most elaborate and interesting study came out way back in 2002 and hasn't been replicated, so I am still using it (knowing that 2002 is an internet lifetime ago). The 2002 web credibility study identified a gap between what really makes a site credible to readers and what readers think makes a site credible.
The data showed that the average consumer paid far more attention to the superficial aspects of a site, such as visual cues, than to its content. For example, nearly half of all consumers (or 46.1%) in the study assessed the credibility of sites based in part on the appeal of the overall visual design of a site, including layout, typography, font size and color schemes.
The study also found that people felt a site was more credible if it was easy to use. If the information is well organized or the function is straightforward, people feel better about their experience—even if they never actually read the information that you post.
This study introduced me for the first time to the Stanford Persuasive Technologies Lab--I find this name very creepy--where researchers try and figure out details of those visual cues that carry a feeling of credibility. In the end this is probably where the art lies--and I do believe there's a lot of art involved. As long as the art doesn't get in the way of the activity your people come to do or the information they seek, then a site's artistry can make a very positive contribution to the feel of credibility.
For example, at Action for Healthy Kids, strong photos of kids faces dominate, while the navigation is focused on getting people onto their state team (a clear, primary purpose). At the National Coalition Against Censorship we see a beautiful entry page with some very sexy topics (including things like pornography and violence), but you have to click through that page to find the site itself and the site organization doesn't follow the teaser topic list.
It may not take an artist to give you the visual cues you need if you can identify a simple motif or image that will appeal to your audience specifically. The ACLU of Texas wanted to reach out to moderates and conservatives in Texas with some common sense reforms. But the ACLU sometimes has a credibility problem when it reaches beyond its core liberal base in a conservative state like Texas. Texans may not automatically believe things the ACLU has to say.
On the other hand, defending the bill of rights is truly patriotic, so the organization focused its web design on a simple flag motif that highlights its patriotism while posting a range of information appealing to all kinds of Texans. This may not be enough to offset the beating this organization regularly takes from the shock jocks, but it probably helps give site visitors a good feeling about the ACLU’s real commitment to serious and credible work.
If you suddenly find yourself part of a site design committee, or you are asked for ways to improve your organizations existing site, or you have just hired a consultant to help you develop a new web site—there are some online resources that might help you sort out the many small and large questions that will come up along the way.
Groundspring has put up a page of guidelines and tips that strikes a good balance between information to help you navigate the big decisions and information to sort out the details. For a list of site design topics and reports that will remind you why you hired that consultant in the first place, visit Web Site Tips. If the headline “How to Use .htaccess, mod_rewrite, and Related (for Apache)” doesn’t give you a headache, you might also like Shirley E. Kaiser’s related blog Brainstorms and Raves. Nancy Schwarz has some great commentary and links for nonprofits about web site development here. And for some common sense tips that can help you avoid mistakes, both small and large, visit Jakob Nielson’s Top Ten Web Design Mistakes.