Halo Effect

Human beings are visual creatures who are inherently judgemental in nature. We size each other up quite quickly. According to scientists, humans form impressions about things they see around in less than one-tenth of a second. And this is one of the major reasons why we prefer to make the first impression to be the best!

In the 1920s, a famous American psychologist Edward Thorndike conducted a study to know the basis for human judgment. He tried to understand how impressions formed from one characteristic of a person affected ratings for his other attributes which were totally unrelated. This experiment helped Thorndike to validate his finding that humans tend to generalize from one positive trait of a person to create an overall positive impression about his whole personality. This human behaviour was later penned down in his article, “A Constant Error in Psychological Ratings” where he had named the phenomenon as “Halo Effect”. 

The effect was entitled to the term “Halo” to focus its analogy with the religious concept where a circle of light is shown around or above the head of a person to represent their holiness or simply depict as a good person. In our context, it is the good trait of a person or thing perceived as a halo to create an overall outstanding impression about the person or thing.

Role of Halo Effect in UX

Morville’s honeycomb diagram is the most well-known image amongst the folks in the UX domain.

The diagram signifies, to create a product offering a great UX, the factors in the outer ring need to be satisfied to deliver value to its users. This value that they expect in return for using your service can be assured only by understanding your users – needs, goals, motivations, and frustrations.

So how can we convince our users to believe that we care for them? Only by giving an excellent first impression. But where should we get started? Of course, the home page. Because that’s where your users mostly land at first and spend a short but reasonable time to make the decision to explore further. 

Though usability is the concept most talked about when discussing UX, what’s the factor that makes you feel like using a product to eventually find if it is usable? That’s desirability. 

Attractiveness or aesthetics of your product design is definitely what firstly pulls your user’s traction. And it is the same, considered as the cardinal factor that drives the halo effect to form the first impression.

Let’s take a look at these two landing page designs. 

These are the landing pages for the two most popular email marketing service providers. Let me not disclose their names to ensure that your judgment is purely based on web design and not biased by the brand names. For now, let’s consider them as provider A and provider B. Given these two service providers which one would you prefer to choose?

Well if you have picked design B, it isn’t a huge surprise. Though design B lacks any kind of strong visual imagery to seize user’s attention they had decided to showcase their awards and accolades upfront to establish the trust and credibility in users, in turn, evoking the Halo effect. At the same time, design A failed to set up the initial bonding with its users due to a highly cluttered home page. The lack of clear and concise content organization leaves users confused and doubtful about the service offered.

Design B is preferred over A, but certainly, there still exists room for improvement. Depending on the context and the message to be communicated with your users we may consider using the following tips for an attractive and functional homepage:

  • Size and colour contrast for readability
  • Strong visual imagery to convey your value proposition
  • Minimalistic design with the use of appealing colours
  • Clutter-free content organization
  • Concise and precise navigation with a prominent search
  • Intuitive labelling and CTA buttons

Other biases closely related to Halo effect

The Halo effect has a strong influence on the user’s perception. It is the cause paving way for other cognitive biases distorting the human thinking process. Here are a couple of cognitive biases controlled by the halo effect:

  1. Aesthetic-Usability Effect

“Users often perceive aesthetically pleasing design as design that’s more usable.” 

(Source: Laws of UX)

Let’s compare these two mugs available on Amazon. Which one would you prefer to buy? The cute llama mug or the simple usual mug? Certainly, most of us would be quite fascinated by the llama mug which is adorable and charming. Also, the ratings that function as the social proof on e-commerce sites clearly tell us customers have preferred the aesthetically pleasing mug over the standard mug in spite of the higher price. Now how about its usability? Here it is.

This clearly validates our statement for aesthetic-usability effect. People prefer beautiful-looking products over usable-but-not-beautiful ones. The striking appearance of the product not just led customers to form an overall impression and make the snap decision of buying it but also made them tolerant over the usability issue.

2. Anchoring Bias

“ Individuals depend too heavily on an initial piece of information offered to make subsequent judgments during decision making.”

(Source: Wikipedia)

High-fidelity                                            Low-fidelity

Creating a high fidelity wireframe to convey your design solution may influence the client to focus more on the visual design aspect of the solution and would act as an anchor down the road. As designers, we always prefer to get started with low fidelity wireframes and then upgrade them to medium/high fidelity. This is because low fidelity wireframes are easy to create and can be iterated quickly. Besides this often heard rationale, the key reason is to ensure the purpose of wireframing is not misunderstood by our stakeholders. Wireframes are created to visualize the design solution mapping out the functionality and help us to identify the usability issues at the earliest. 

As Will Rogers, popularly known as America’s Cowboy Philosopher says, ​“You never get a second chance to make a first impression” not just holds true in the real world but also in the realm of digital experience.