If your visual design needs to make a specific impression on your users, don’t rely on your project team’s assessment of the UI. Try this quick 5 second test with actual users to confirm your brand goals are being achieved.
Is your product strategy dependent on achieving a specific initial brand impression?
There might be any number of reasons why you want your website or app to immediately elicit a particular emotional reaction from your users.
It might be that your research indicates your web app has to appear fun or interesting enough to keep your target audience from leaving. Or maybe your website needs to immediately feel modern and authoritative so that its content is taken seriously. Or perhaps it’s imperative that your mobile app seem professional and trustworthy so that your users are willing to create an account or enter their credit card information.
Regardless, if your answer to the brand question was YES, then you should run a “5-Second Test” to see if your visual design is successful in achieving the desired effect with actual users.
Your users didn’t sign off on your visual design
Your product might have a very nice visual design that totally meets your stakeholders’ vision.
And if your product doesn’t have specific high-priority branding objectives, then getting sign-off approval on your design might be all you really need. You can then move forward with usability testing and beta testing, and you’ll only make changes to your visual design if you encounter specific problems.
However, if your visual design is meant to induce a specific emotional effect from your users, then you’ve got more work to do.
Sure, your project team thinks the visual design accomplishes the required brand impression. That’s a nice place to start. But you need to test your design with actual users to make sure that they agree.
The 5 second test
The 5 second test is simple, and the name spoils a lot of the mystery.
It goes like this:
- Prep the user to view a visual design
- Show your design to the user for just 5 seconds and then stop
- Ask the user questions about the design they just saw
Despite the short, non-directed period of time viewing the design, users will be able to give you useful and meaningful data about their impression of the design.
But why does this work?
Reliable opinions at a glance
Meaningful split-second judgements are a real thing. Users can reliably make their judgement of a visual design in as little as 1/20th of a second (50 milliseconds).
At a glance, users will subconsciously make an instantaneous judgment on the general visual appeal, and even some specific aesthetic factors of the design. This judgement, made in a fraction of a second, is highly accurate to the judgement that would have if given more time to look at the design.
The design-review time in your 5 second test is a hundred times as long as a 50-millisecond glance (math!), but is still, you know, a pretty short time.
In 5 seconds, the user gets to take in the visual design, get an impression, and feel some of its impact. The user doesn’t really have time to inspect, read content, or dig deeper. Which is good—the impression stands alone, fresh in the mind.
Example and tips
Nielson-Norman Group has a short video about the 5 second test, which includes some helpful tips.
I’ll add an additional tip here: don’t make your post-view question period too long or too complex. You want to capture the information you need while the design is still fresh in the participant’s mind. The participant doesn’t (and shouldn’t!) get to see the design again while they answer.
[Nielsen Norman Group (NNgroup) video on the 5-Second Test, from Youtube]
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