Trust me, web users … I’m beautiful

Website designers want to woo you, and will use every trick in the book. EF Photography

Beautiful women make great con people, as do handsome men.

Why? Because, for better or worse, we are predisposed to trust beautiful people more than normal-looking folks.

But what if we take it one step further: if we trust attractive people, do we also trust attractive websites?

Sure, it might seem like a big leap, but for web designers and marketers such questions are more than mere speculation.

To understand this question, and to ultimately arrive at an answer, we need to dip quickly into the world of evolutionary biology.

We know that attractive people of the opposite gender make preferred mates. Attractiveness suggests healthiness, an important consideration when looking for a mate.

We also know that we’re naturally suspicious of strangers – they could potentially steal our food, our land or threaten our survival.

So, as a result of our instinctive desire to mate with healthy partners we develop trusting relationships with attractive people easier than we do with normal-looking people.

The Puma website is vibrant and attractive. (Click for larger image) www.puma.com

But what about objects? Can we trust beautiful objects more than objects that are not?

Instinctively, you’d think not – objects don’t normally communicate like humans, and the link between object design and designer is most often unknown.

In other words, the human element of most objects is muted and not at all salient in the viewer’s mind.

But what if an object did communicate, and did have a strong human element whereby the visual aspect could be viewed as an extension of someone’s personality?

I’m talking, of course, about websites.

“Government websites tend to be cluttered and ugly” (Click for larger image). www.census.gov

In my research for the Webreep project I found a direct relationship between the attractiveness of websites and how much people trust those sites.

When we think about why this might be the case, we see many similarities with the mechanisms shaping trust towards other humans.

Websites may be viewed as an extension of a person, with a personality and other associations that go beyond objective evaluations.

Websites communicate, are adorned with decorative features, and may have “balance” – a key characteristic of beauty in human beings.

The Apple website is one of the best examples of attractive web design (Click for larger image). www.apple.com/safari

Of course, not all websites are created the same. As the internet developed, some truly hideous creations came to light that probably never should have.

Thankfully, conventions in web design have finally taken hold. The Rule of Thirds and the naturally-occurring golden triangle are also regularly found in website design now.

The column system popular now essentially comprises a main column two-thirds the width of a page, with a right sidebar accounting for the final third.

Website logos in conventional web design are located top-left, search boxes belong on the right, and the “face” – the main image on a homepage, sometimes called the “hero” – is at the top of the page, just below the “crown” (top content).

Microsoft pays little attention to balanced web design (Click for larger image). www.microsoft.com

So why does any of this matter?

Consumers have always been very cautious about providing their contact and financial details online. Consequently, trust has been one of the most challenging obstacles facing website vendors since the birth of the web.

In the early years of internet adoption, websites that faired best were those of companies that also had a physical presence on the high street and had already formed some type of relationship with consumers.

Trust is still an enormous component of website design – without it consumers simply won’t spend their money, and for most businesses, that’s what it comes down to.

Attracting thousands of visitors to your website or Facebook page is meaningless if they don’t pull out their wallets at some point.

Beauty may well be in the eye of the beholder, but websites want your attention as much as any real-life suitor.

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