How People Perform a First Glance Evaluation

How People Perform a First Glance Evaluation

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0152-9.ch006
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This chapter looks at some of the factors that drive how people form their first impression of a text and how design teams can ensure their material leaves a good impression within the first 2 seconds of people looking at a page, the time during which people evaluate the appearance and begin to read and comprehend the text. People’s initial perception of text happens within a few seconds, long before they actually read any text; some research has found initial impressions can form within 50 milliseconds (Lindgaard, Fernandes, Dudek, & Brown, 2006). That first glance evaluation depends on their initial perception of the font choices, text design, and graphics. The first few seconds of viewing a text can be critical to the HII by activating a mental model and setting up how the text will be interpreted. Or if it creates a poor first impression, people may flag the text as unreadable and ignore it.
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This report, by its very length, defends itself against the risk of being read.—Winston Churchill

This chapter considers the information as it moves from the situation to the person. The white area in Figure 1 shows the area of the HII model relevant to this chapter. It deals with how a person perceives the information and decides what information will receive further consideration. The gray shape in the drawing plays a gatekeeper since any situation contains a huge amount of information from which people must select what is relevant and funnel it down to manageable amounts as they work on comprehending it and applying it to their situation.

Figure 1.

First glance evaluation of the information


The main areas covered in this chapter are:

  • Perception and Pre-Attentive Processing: Discussion of the underlying psychological theories about how people perceive information and sort it out without consciously thinking about it.

  • Salience Issues at First Glance: The first few seconds are critical for ensuring the reader perceives the document correctly. This section looks a the factors that influence those first few seconds.

  • Gestalt Theory: Discussion of the main points of Gestalt theory and how it influences initial impressions of a page.

  • Cue-Conflicts: Discussion of the factors which can lead to conflicts between what a page presents to people and what it is suppose to present.

  • Change Blindness: Discussion of how people completely ignore some aspects of a design and how that can impact communication.



The first glance evaluation of an information display sets people’s expectations; if they believe it will be highly usable, they will tend to continue to believe that. Factors driving evaluation of the first glance at a text depend on people’s initial perception of the font choices, text design, and graphics. The first few seconds of viewing a text can be critical to the HII by activating a mental model and forming a first impression of both the information quality and contents. If the wrong mental model is activated, people may misinterpret the text. Or if it leaves a poor first impression, people may not examine the page further.

With any written communication, whether on the web, a long printed report, or a one-page brochure, a significant factor of how deeply people will read the material—or read it at all—happens with the first glance at the page. Kurosu and Kashimura (1995) demonstrated that based on a first glance evaluation, people who determined an interface looked more attractive also rated it as easier to use. They demonstrated this when they found that people consistently said that the attractive ATMs worked better. They studied 26 different layouts for ATMs which were identical in number of buttons and operations, but differed in layout. During the first glance evaluation, people who determine the interface looks more attractive will also rate it as easier to use.

Of course, the opposite is true, if the first glance sets an expectation that it will be difficult, then people will find the interaction difficult. Lindgaard et al. (2006) found that people can form a first impression of a web page with only a 50 millisecond exposure. That impression activates a reader’s mental model and can either excite or turn off the reader to a text. A vibrant exciting looking text will make them want to read more, while a dense gray text block may make them look elsewhere for information.

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