Design Matters Because People Judge Books by Their Covers. Always.

“There can be as much value in the blink of an eye as in months of rational analysis.”– Malcolm Gladwell

If you haven’t picked up one of Malcolm Gladwell’s books, you need to get to it–fascinating information that entertains and educates.

In his book, Blink, Gladwell examines the power of first impressions. He calls first impressions instinctive or split second judgment.

He devotes over 250 pages talking about how first impressions and split second judgments affect us in profound, often subconscious ways.

No matter how much we think we can look past the exterior, first impressions are an undeniable force of human nature and we must learn to deal with it for the good, and not let it harm us.

What First Impression Does Your Design Make?

In 2004, researcher Elizabeth Sillence did a study to see how people decided which health websites were trustworthy. She had people look for information about health issues that were of interest to them.

Her research found that when participants rejected a website as not being trustworthy, 83% of their comments were related to design factors, such as unfavorable look and feel, poor navigation, color, text size, and even the name of the website.

For websites that were found to be trustworthy, 74% of their comments were related to the content of the site. That means if they do stick around to look at your content, it was important for the information to be relevant and address their needs (as opposed to going on and on about their how great their services and products are, their quality, blah blah blah.)

She found that people make quick (split second) decisions about what is trustworthy. They will reject a website first, and may decide later whether or not to trust it (if they don’t move on to other sites). But, it is design factors that determine the initial reaction and the initial acceptance or rejection of the thing.

Well, Duh.

This should not really come as surprise. We already know that if you go out dressed in clean, attractive clothes, you will be received much differently by people you interact with, than if you went out in tattered jeans and an old t-shirt. Why would it be any different for non-human interactions?

And now research shows that the same dynamic applies to websites. And I would go as far as to say that it applies to book covers, print ads, and all of your marketing materials.

That’s Great News!

That means that you can have a head start in gaining people’s trust and their first impression of you, your business, and your products and services.

Using aesthetic factors such as color, organization, readability of the text are the most important aspects of presenting a clean professional image that connects with your audience. These things are not just for decoration anymore. They are an important part of your message.

And don’t forget, your message must be relevant. A pretty design does not compensate for a weak message. That would be like saying the beautiful decorations on a cake compensate for it tasting like sawdust.  Or being handsomely dressed in expensive garments compensate for being a foul mouthed snob. In the end, they all get rejected.

You Need A Good Designer

The best designers understand that the message is the most important part of any communications piece, but that they can’t sacrifice aesthetics.  Graphic Designer Mike Davidson puts it this way:

“You can have information and ease of use and have artistic integrity at the same time.”

He continues to say:

“I didn’t get into design to be an artist. To me, an artist creates things to evoke emotion. Being a designer goes a step further than that, not only trying to evoke emotion but trying to make a reaction. It is very objective-drive.”

My sentiments exactly. Design isn’t just how something looks. It is how it works.

Find out more about how to make your designs work in our free book, Designers Gone Wild, the Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Print Marketing.

Happy Marketing to You,

Kia Arian



Kia Arian and the Zine Design Team


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Category: Graphic Design