Website Credibility Equals Pleasing Design?!!?

Ok. I’m probably behind the times here, but I was thinking about how people evaluate website credibility (and more to the point, how I teach it in search engine classes). So I did a search to find some examples of best practices, and came across this amazing study done in 2002. It scared me.

Why did it scare me? I freaked because the number 1 thing people looked at (2,684 in this study) was… VISUAL DESIGN (46.1%)! Not the validity of the information presented on the page, not the accuracy of facts mentioned, but … design. “Nearly half of all consumers 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” (link to quote page). One participant was even quoted as saying “just looks more credible” (about a website he/she was “evaluating”). My goodness.

You and I both know that the actual information presented on the page, whether that information comes in text, image, sound, etc., is the MOST important part of any website – a pretty website with no content isn’t terribly useful to our customers (well, unless your customer happens to be a web designer hunting for creative visual ideas…). And at the same time, given the same information on two different websites, it just makes sense to go with the better-designed site (easier/faster to download, easy-to-read format, etc.).

But the apparent fact that consumers are judging potential sources of useful information by how visually appealing it is or isn’t IS NOT GOOD! Sounds to me like it’s up to us library-types to continue teaching not only how to search the web, but maybe more importantly – how to evaluate the stuff found while searching the web.

And one other random thought – since our library websites are, in essence, being judged by the clothes they wear – is yours dressed appropriately? Does it have that “I’m useful” look? And what exactly does “I’m useful” look like? Any thoughts/ideas?