The Halo Effect in UX Design

In a recent usability test, we had a user who was looking at different websites comparing moving companies on one Web site. He found a typo. He looked at that typo and he said, if they’re this careless on their website, how can I trust them to move my furniture? Now, is that a fair judgment? Are those two related at all, creating a typo and moving your furniture?

Not really. There’s not going to be the same people doing that. And yet there it was. He now had a negative impression of the company because of one initial impression that was carelessness. What’s happening there is something called the halo effect. The halo effect is a psychological phenomenon written about First in 1920 by Edward Thorndyke. And what he found was that when people had a first negative impression of something, they carried that negative impression with them and applied it to other even unrelated aspects. So like in this moving company example, this user had a negative impression and used it to apply it in a broad strokes to the rest of that organization. Now, it’s really important for designers to consider this because it means that the very first impression is extremely important.

The good news is that the halo effect also works in a positive way. In fact, the name Halo Effect actually comes from medieval and renaissance paintings, where there’s a really common practice of displaying saintly and good people with a little halo above. So if we can take advantage of offering a positive first impression, people are more likely to carry that positivity through as they interact with the rest of our product. Consider the halo effect in your designs. Think about ways to make a great positive first impression so that users are more likely to like you, maybe be forgiving of other things as they move through your site and on the other side, take it seriously when people have a negative experience because you might unintentionally be allowing them to make judgments about your product that really aren’t fair. Use the halo effect to your advantage.

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