Ran across an article about aesthetics from Carleton University called Aesthetics, visual appeal, usability, and user satisfaction: What do the user’s eyes tell the user’s brain? which had confirmed my previous assertions that you have 3 seconds to make an impression with a website – in fact, according to the article, you have 50 milliseconds. It also confirmed my idea that if your first impression is bad, then you’re fighting an uphill struggle to merely regain your credibility. This is a doubly bad situation for an e-learning space, where you have to not only fight to maintain attention, but also external preconceived notions of e-learning from other professors or teachers work online can have an effect on your credibility as an instructor. That credibility can be a class killer, especially at the College level in Canada. Colleges were built on trades, and being an instructor at College requires some real-world experience in the field that you’re instructing in. Any knock on your credibility can be overcome with good teaching technique, or personality but you have to fight for attention. When you are interacting with a screen though, as your sole “interaction” with a teacher, that initial impact is crucial to retaining attention. Positive first impressions will also allow users to forgive minor usability errors, although I didn’t see a definition of what minor was.
The article also goes on to say that users prefer things that they’ve seen before – which seems like an obvious statement – and also contributes to explaining why we see so many two and three column layouts on the web – familiarity. Three columns mimic the newspaper, which is familiar to most members of the 20th century (although, may not be to the members of the 21st century). Never mind that columns organize information into groups which allows users to better scan and assimilate information, but order on a page is aesthetically pleasing. Disorder is disorienting. So a logical ordering of information will help with your credibility long after the initial impression has occurred. Does it follow that a positive first impression and an orderly page improve your credibility? Or is there a finite amount?