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Web psychology: halo effect and colors

The web is featured by a multitude of sites, so that for some time now we talk about network overload. For each type of demand on the internet there is therefore such an amount of offer that the browser is puzzled and is in trouble when it has to choose. Not all websites boast the same level of reliability and through the search engine you can find both sites that offer quality content as well as others that have a less transparent policy. The user, aware of that, establishes a basic criterion in order to guide him while browsing. What is the universal parameter which is used to evaluate a site?

The answer is shocking in its simplicity: surfers are led by the first impression. Of course it is not the only principle that users take into account: besides taht there are usability and the convenience of surfing. Those latter are core values and a site built without taking that into consideration is doomed to disappear in a short time. But it is not an exaggeration to state that the aesthetic appearance has become crucial for the web too. Before attempting navigating a site, the user observes the graphic aspect. If it complies with certain standards, the visitor will remain on our page, but if it does not, he leave it immediately and will continue in his quest. This phenomenon is defined as halo effect. The term was introduced in 1920 by Edward Thorndike, an American psychologist, who has outlined its features in the article "The Constant Error in Psychological Ratings". To define the phenomenon, the researcher took as basis how the US Army officers elaborated judgments on their subordinates. In particular he noted that they used to judge positively the soldiers according to a single quality: if the non-commissioned officer was high-ranking, then it was considered consequently intelligent.

Likewise, a single feature of a web page is able to influence in a positive or negative way, the judgment of a visitor, relating to the site as a whole.

If you want users to remain on a site, browsing must be clear and consistent. Clean and simple graphics contribute to such purpose, but what are the elements to be taken into account? The variables to consider are several, but the main ones are definitely colours and spaces.

Colour is the first thing that catches the attention of the surfer, that’s why the choice of shades must be designed very carefully. It is globally recognized that some hues determine a reaction rather than another, so that in the world of communication such "power" has been widely exploited for decades. A tawdry and "full colour" website is annoying and it conveys a feeling of chaos. The colour palette should consist of three shades: one for the background, a second one for the texts, a third one for graphics and for a possible call to action. Usually when designing a website designers adopt the triadic system, or choose colours in strong contrast which are on opposite sides of the chromatic wheel.

The background colour and the one of the text should be very different from each other so as to facilitate the reading. Words written in black on a blue background discourage the user, who finding himself in difficulty to decipher the text, will leave the site. The background can be of any hue but the obvious choice is usually the most effective: white in its simplicity is one of the most functional shades, as it is capable of transmitting the user a feeling of order and cleanliness

There is no universal colour code: every culture assigns to a particular tone a different meaning. When creating a site the choice of colours should be done according to the target to which you want to address. However, there are scientific notions concerning the colour.

Blue is a cold colour, that we often find in nature (just think of the colour of the sky and the sea) and it is perhaps for this reason that it is capable of instilling calm and relax. It is often used in the field of business because it communicates professionalism and reliability. Beware of shades: those too cool a feeling of aloofness.

Yellow is a warm colour light and lively. It can be used in the layout to create contrast effects, thus giving the site brightness. It should be used with caution: even if it is a colour loved by extroverts in large quantities it creates a feeling of anxiety. Also the opaque shades communicate weakness and disease.

Redis a dominant colour, which attracts attention. When you look at a red object, in fact, the blood pressure rises. It is a colour that conveys conflicting feelings: it can transmit energy and push the action, but it can also symbolize violence or a ban.

Green is in the middle of the colour spectrum, and it is apt to communicate harmony and balance. It is a shade strongly present in nature: it is the colour of the trees. It is used extensively for logos and websites dedicated to environmental sustainability.

Black is a delicate colour, since it is ambivalent. Depending on the circumstances it can indeed express positive or negative ideas. It can symbolize wealth as well as unhappiness. It is often used in business environments as formal colour and capable of conferring prestige.

Another element that has a great importance in the construction of a web page is the organization of space. For a long time there has been a sort of horror vacui and designers have created chaotic web pages, crowded with content. It has been proven by several eye-tracking experiments that the user feels oppressed by sites where information is displayed piled up upon each other.
White space is necessary because it communicates cleanliness and order of the page, allows visitors to take a break to rest your eyes and exploit the content calmly. In order to create a pleasant and usable website the areas of a web page should be wide and intended for a single type of information (text rather than images or graphics). The task of white space is to define those areas and delimit while enhancing them. Do not be thus afraid of providing a layout with plenty of space between each paragraph, between paragraphs and images and proper line spacing.

Once introduced in the chaotic internet these concepts sometimes lose their meaning when not supported by this additional element: by a pleasant appearance. When designing the layout of your site think about this as a business card with which to present yourself, so the user will be able to understand from the first seconds how much the content and layout of your website is precious.

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