ArticlePDF AvailableLiterature Review

Credibility judgments in web page design – a brief review

Authors:
  • “Iuliu Hatieganu” University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Abstract

Today, more than ever, knowledge that interfaces appearance analysis is a crucial point in human-computer interaction field has been accepted. As nowadays virtually anyone can publish information on the web, the credibility role has grown increasingly important in relation to the web-based content. Areas like trust, credibility, and behavior, doubled by overall impression and user expectation are today in the spotlight of research compared to the last period, when other pragmatic areas such as usability and utility were considered. Credibility has been discussed as a theoretical construct in the field of communication in the past decades and revealed that people tend to evaluate the credibility of communication primarily by the communicator’s expertise. Other factors involved in the content communication process are trustworthiness and dynamism as well as various other criteria but to a lower extent. In this brief review, factors like web page aesthetics, browsing experiences and user experience are considered.
Journal of Medicine and Life Vol. 9, Issue 2, April-June 2016, pp.115-119
Credibility judgments in web page design a brief review
Selejan O*, Muresanu DF* **, Popa L* **, Muresanu-Oloeriu I*, Iudean D****, Buzoianu A***, Suciu S*****
*“RoNeuro” Institute for Neurological Research and Diagnostic, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
**Department of Neurosciences, “Iuliu Hatieganu” University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
***Department of Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, “Iuliu Hatieganu”
University of Medicine and Pharmacy,Cluj-Napoca, Romania
****Faculty of Electrical Engineering, Technical University of Cluj-Napoca, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
******Department of Functional Biosciences, “Iuliu Hatieganu” University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Correspondence to: Prof. Dafin F. Muresanu, MD, PhD,
Department of Clinical Neurosciences, “Iuliu Hatieganu” University of Medicine and Pharmacy, Cluj-Napoca,
8 Victor Babeș Street, Code 400012, Cluj-Napoca, Cluj, Romania,
Mobile phone: +40 724353060; Fax: +40 264406845, +40 264597256, Ext. 2116,
E-mail: dafinm@ssnn.ro
Received: January 29th, 2016Accepted: April 18th, 2016
Abstract
Today, more than ever, knowledge that interfaces appearance analysis is a crucial point in human-computer interaction field has
been accepted. As nowadays virtually anyone can publish information on the web, the credibility role has grown increasingly
important in relation to the web-based content. Areas like trust, credibility, and behavior, doubled by overall impression and user
expectation are today in the spotlight of research compared to the last period, when other pragmatic areas such as usability and
utility were considered. Credibility has been discussed as a theoretical construct in the field of communication in the past decades
and revealed that people tend to evaluate the credibility of communication primarily by the communicator’s expertise. Other factors
involved in the content communication process are trustworthiness and dynamism as well as various other criteria but to a lower
extent. In this brief review, factors like web page aesthetics, browsing experiences and user experience are considered.
Keywords: user credibility, web page aesthetics, visual hierarchy, web page perception
Aesthetics and credibility in web page design
Aesthetics has largely been assessed by means
of a single bipolar item (e.g. uglybeautiful), which reflects
a gut feeling at best but not a profound aesthetic
judgment. However, this simple and intuitive appraisal can
be very useful and has its justification in a quick
assessment of first impressions, as it was demonstrated
by Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek, and Brown [1]. The
authors were able to show that the first impression of a
website is formed within 50ms and is highly stable.
Moreover, it can be seen as the most prototypical
aesthetic judgment. This 50ms window is certainly not
enough time for cognitive processes to occur in an
analytical or reflective manner but it showed that ‘‘visual
appeal’’ was the prime determiner of a positive reaction to
a website. This very short time span is aligned with a
result of another study, in which authors were arguing that
80% of the people browsing the web spend just a few
seconds on a site before moving along [2].
Even if there are many best practice guidelines
for aesthetic design, the body of knowledge is still looking
for more solid data about empirically validated user
interface (UI) design factors. It is of utmost importance to
categorize the triggers of the users’ aesthetic responses.
According to Michailidou et al. [3], the ‘‘less is more”
notion, showing that less complex websites are preferred
over more complex ones, was found valid. Robins and
Holmes [4] argued, in the same vein, that when a person
is opening a website, the first impression is probably
made in a few seconds. Based on this first impression,
the user will either continue the browsing or move on to
the next web page, a decision influenced by many factors.
Page aesthetics and user’s judgment about the
site’s credibility is among the factors that may influence
the user to continue its browsing on a web page or go
away. A study performed by Rieh & Danielson [5] showed
that when an identical content is delivered to users using
different levels of aesthetic treatment, the page with a
higher aesthetic treatment was judged as having higher
credibility. The authors coined that terms such as the
“amelioration effect” of visual design and aesthetics on
content credibility an aesthetic treatment, increased the
rating for the same content in 19 out of 21 cases (90%). In
the first few seconds in which a user views a web page,
this effect is already settling in. As depicted before, in a
case of content similarity, a higher aesthetic treatment will
increase perceived credibility. An important aspect to be
mentioned here is that credibility can take different forms
in the eyes of the users. Some of them will perceive
Journal of Medicine and Life Vol. 9, Issue 2, April-June 2016
116
content quality on a website as a source of credibility
while others can perceive authority as a sign of credibility
in the online environment [6]. A web page logo is also
seen as an authority sign. The term “credibility” is used
here to describe the extent to which users trust the
informational content on a certain website.
Fogg et al. [7] conducted extensive studies on
the phenomenon of web credibility that revealed
surprising results on the extent to which the dynamism of
a website mattered to users. The largest category,
“design and look”, was indicated by 46.1% of the
respondents. The second preferred category was
“information design” of a site and was indicated by 28.5%
of the respondents as a marker that contributed to their
credibility judgments. To summarize, nearly 75% of the
respondents reported making credibility judgments by
content presentation rather than other factors (content’s/
creator’s authority, trustworthiness, reputation, etc.).
The layers of credibility judgments
Norman [8] suggested that credibility judgments
might occur at different levels of perception and criteria,
classified as visceral and cognitive. He divided reactions
to design in three experience levels: visceral, behavioral,
and reflective. Visceral experience in design is an
immediate, powerful reaction to design while the
behavioral level represents the experience during the use
of design. Whereas the visceral design tries to capture the
user’s attention immediately, the behavioral design aims
to keep the user focus on the page through the ease of
use and learning. However, it may represent the fact that
users will transcend the behavioral level and use objects
that do not perform well because of some emotional
attachment to the object. This represents the reflective
level. The design in this area is highly analytic and
cognitive and an attempt to create a better design by
incorporating the experience of users and their knowledge
of goals and objectives of the product or service is made
[9].
The ‘‘visceral’’ criterion represents an area in
which a reduced number of studies have been conducted.
Viscerally-based credibility judgments emerge without
conscious analytical cognitive processes. This reaction is
primarily based on highly subjective reactions to stimuli
presented when a user starts browsing a website. In this
train of thoughts, a person’s credibility judgment may be
influenced by a combination of different factors (e.g.
colors, layout, fonts, bulleted lists, tabular data, etc.). The
users will find the task of explaining these judgments
challenging. They usually relate to such factors as
dynamism, trustworthiness (if based on intangible factors
such as first impressions), and sociability.
Anyhow, viscerally influenced criteria are
primarily visual and not cognitive, so the impact of the
visual experience is an action facilitated at the level of the
nervous system and not at the level of brain thought
processes. Gladwell [10] and colleagues summarized the
research on rapid cognition, while Wathan and Burkell
[11] presented a similar notion in their model of the
credibility judgment process. These studies tried to
explain how people can make quick judgments that are
often correct. The authors identified cognitive processes
like ‘‘surface credibility’’ (visceral) and ‘‘message
credibility’’ (cognitive). The latter requires a further
analysis to evaluate more objective criteria (e.g. expertise,
accuracy), while the former addresses appearance issues
that were quickly processed.
If at the visceral level, the design of a website
suggests that the information is not credible, the viewer
might decide to leave the page after a very short period of
time, thus not allowing the content credibility to be
perceived and judged at the cognitive level.
Tractinsky et al. [12] designed two experiments
to replicate and continue Lindgaard’s work. By using
explicit (subjective evaluations) and implicit (response
latency) measures in both experiments, they have
demonstrated that immediate aesthetic impression of web
pages are remarkably consistent. In the first experiment,
the participants evaluated and ranked the attractiveness
of 50 web pages in two phases after two exposures:
500ms and 10 seconds. The ratings of web pages after
the 500ms were strongly correlated with the average
attractiveness ratings after a 10 seconds exposure. The
findings also suggested considerable individual
differences in evaluations and the consistency of those
evaluations.
In the second experiment, the same 500ms
exposure was preferred for 24 of the 50 web pages from
the first experiment. The same marker was evaluated as
in the first study: attractiveness. Subsequently, users
evaluated the design of the web pages on the dimensions
of classical and expressive aesthetics. The results
showed a high correlation between the attractiveness
ratings on both experiments. Also, it seemed that low
marks in attractiveness were mainly associated by
subjects with very low ratings of expressive aesthetics.
Overall, the main conclusion is that aesthetic impressions
of web pages are quickly made and these results provide
direct evidence in support of this premise. Indirectly, these
results also suggested that visual aesthetics play an
important role in the users’ evaluations of the IT artifact
and their attitudes toward the interactive systems.
The model of visual hierarchy
The mind-eye hypothesis implies that people are
usually thinking about what they are looking at [13]. They
do not always totally understand or engage with it, but if
they are looking, they are usually paying attention,
especially when concentrating on a particular task [14].
The mind-eye hypothesis also implies that the
way people look at any given artifact (e.g. web page) is
determined by what they are trying to do with it. In other
Journal of Medicine and Life Vol. 9, Issue 2, April-June 2016
117
words, the task the user has chosen or been asked to do
determines their looks [13].
As presented by Faraday [15], the viewing
pattern is guided by two distinct cognitive processes:
searching (a process that can be determined by vectors
such as text style, color, size, location and visual
information of components) and scanning (driven by
attributes such as proximity and order of components).
Searching refers to a viewer’s attempt to find a point of
entry into the page while scanning refers to the viewer’s
behavior after finding such an entry point. In this second
phase, the viewer extracts information that is located at
the entry point. As larger items draw more attention than
smaller items, larger objects on a page will be viewed
prior to the smaller ones [16]. People also exhibit a top
down viewing preference. Therefore, items located at the
top of a page will have priority in the visual hierarchy over
other items. The scanning phase of viewing can also be
influenced by items nearby, which are perceived as
related to each other. Placing related information around
an entry point on a web page can facilitate a more
effective scan phase [17].
Interesting findings on reading preferences of
long documents were published by Buscher et al. [18].
This exploratory study analyzed reading regions on a
monitor. The authors have proved that the users’ visual
attention was not evenly distributed on the screen and
that users have individual preferred reading regions when
working with long documents. Vertically, the visual
attention can be approximated by a normal distribution
specified by two parameters: the preferred vertical
reading location and the amount of vertical spreading.
A survey published by Nielsen [19] indicated a
return on the investment as high as 83% in websites in
which users defined their browsing experiences as
positive. More than that, if the page is visually pleasing,
users are more inclined to trust it [20]. In the same vein,
the visual appeal of a page is positively correlated with a
perception of usability [21].
Djamasbi et al. [22] conducted two studies, trying
to confirm the prior mentioned hypotheses, in which they
compared the users’ opinion on two web pages. As a
methodology, they used two prototypes of the same page
to examine if including images of people had an influence
on perceptions of visual appeal and whether a user’s trust
assessment was correlated with the visual appeal rating.
The results showed that the page with images of people
was rated significantly more visually appealing than the
page that included images of logos. These results are
consistent with the social presence theory and suggest
that the inclusion of images can positively affect the
appeal of a homepage. Moreover, the investigator found
that the participants’ visual appeal ratings were found to
be a significant predictor of their credibility rating and that
the people completed tasks significantly faster by using
the page with images of people while maintaining the
accuracy. These results support the literature suggesting
that the beauty of a page may affect people’s trust in it
[23]. Another study conducted by Cry et al. [24] reinforced
these findings: pages that include human faces are
perceived to have a greater degree of social presence.
Nevertheless, Djamasbi’s findings are not in line
with the results published by Lewenstein et al. [25]. In a
study in which users were examined based on the way
they read online news articles, the authors measured their
first three gazes on a page. The results indicated that the
users’ attention was drawn to text over graphics and
photos, and ran against findings from traditional print
media that suggested that users are attracted by photo
elements first.
Gender differences and age in web pages
perception
Starting from the evidence presented by Moss et
al. [26], arguing that men and women exhibit different
preferences in layout and presentation stimuli, Djamasbi
and his colleagues examined possible gender differences
in web preferences by using eye tracking [16]. Literature
provides ample evidence that men and women exhibit
differences in what they perceive as attractive and when
designing websites. Also, men and women tend to show
different preferences in how they create their web pages
regarding several factors [26]. The same study revealed
that men prefer to use darker colors (e.g. black, blue)
compared to women, who prefer lighter colors. Also,
women are more prone to include images in their web
design [26]. In particular, women are more prone to
include images of people in their websites compared to
men.
In a study performed on 30 subjects, Pan et al.
[27] investigated the determinants of web page viewing
behavior by using eye-tracking. They have concluded that
the gender of subjects drives the web page viewing
behavior, the order of web pages viewed and the
interaction between site types and the order of the pages
viewed. Some important results of this study revealed that
males exhibited significantly longer mean fixation
durations than females. Gender differences in perceptual
processing have also been reported by Jones et al. [28].
The gender differences reported in the current study
provided further support for the notion that different
design guidelines might be beneficial to websites who
cater specifically to one gender or the other [27].
Nevertheless, the most interesting finding is the
complex interaction effect of page order and site type, on
the three measurements of ocular behavior, meaning that
the viewers’ eye movement behavior changes over time
even on a single website, and the type of websites
influenced the change in direction and magnitude. This
confirms the previous work of other researchers,
supporting the hypothesis that the individual
Journal of Medicine and Life Vol. 9, Issue 2, April-June 2016
118
characteristics of the viewer, as well as the stimuli,
contribute to the viewers’ eye movement behavior [29].
In order to close the circle of age and gender,
Djamasbi et al. [16] performed a study in which
Generation Y’s [18-30] web preferences were
investigated. This population segment spends 200 billion
dollars per year and represents a significant market share
per se. Regarding business and practical implications, this
study has proved to deliver important conclusions, and
that is because Generation Y has very solid internet skills
that are averse to irrelevant marketing [30]. In
complementary studies related, authors found out that
Generation Y people like cool graphics, have short
attention span, and do not like to read long boring texts. It
is more likely that this generation particularly enjoys the
presence of images on web pages [30].
The results of this study were in line with the
prior research that showed people under forty like pages
that provide a search feature, include pictures of
celebrities, have little text, and contain a large main
image.
Conclusions
The credibility study is highly multidisciplinary
and it involves some different concepts and approaches,
spanning from information evaluation, content quality,
page aesthetics, and gender preferences, etc. In this brief
review, our work has focused on the cognitive process
involved in the credibility evaluation of a web page, the
content impact on this perception as well as on the
divided preferences between genders.
As depicted by Popa et al. [31], there are several
tools for the exploration of cerebral processes, and we
can mention the following: eye tracking, functional
magnetic resonance imaging, braincomputer interface,
humancomputer interaction, e-learning, and assistive
technology. Hopefully, shortly, the study of credibility will
benefit from this complex array of options hence revealing
new insights in the particular field.
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