First Impressions: Yay or Nay?

Coming from a relatively smaller city like Nagpur, my first impression about Mumbai was that of a crazy, chaotic, fast-paced city where people are so entwined in their busy lives that they have no time for warmth or hospitality. But once I moved here and as I experience the city, it is quite the opposite. I have found it to be very accepting, welcoming and filled with infinite opportunities to get you started. If you look closely, there is a calmness in the madness. I am thankful that my first impression wasn’t accurate.

That got me thinking, that since childhood we have been told to always meet someone with smile, look confident, be a good listener and so on. All in the quest to create a good first impression, because you know what they say “ ‘You never get a second chance to make a first impression!’”. After all, who wouldn’t want to leave behind a good image.

Pondering over it I realized that we always subconsciously give weightages to these impressions that we tend to form, and being a designer I have developed a habit of trying to understand why what happens as it happens.

The brain is wired to have two reactions about whatever or whomever we encounter; these are termed as “Impression” & “ Perception.” Impressions and perceptions, while often used interchangeably, are actually quite different from each other. Impression is an idea or opinion of what something or someone is like . A simple definition of a perception is a belief or opinion often held by many people and based on how things seem. A first impression is the event when one person first encounters another person and forms a mental image of that person. impressions are based on a wide range of characteristics: age, race, culture, language, gender, voice, number of people present, economic status, and time allowed to process. Impression accuracy varies depending on the observer and the target being observed. For now I’ll be focusing on first impressions only.

How & why do we form a first impression?

First impressions are super-fast. Scientifically as humans we make a first impression within a fraction of a second. All it take is for you to look at the other person, his/her appearance, observe their body language and BOOM! the first impression is formed!! This constant impression-making applies not just for people, but also for products, services and virtually any experience one may have. First impressions are beyond just momentary feelings; they can influence how people view and interact with everything around them.

They are our brain’s way of interpreting reality from a personal point of view. These are produced by our neurological system for faster decisions & is an attempt to oversimplify the information.

What are your first impressions when you look at the 2 images below?

Is the dog aggressive or friendly? The choice you make in that precious first few seconds can be a matter of life and death.

This example shows us how first impressions can save us from danger, but does it make sense when there is no danger? Is it always wrong to judge a book by its cover? Can first impressions be accurate and lasting or should we completely discount our first impressions? The more I delved into the subject and coupled it with my personal experiences, I realised that like most things in life, its mostly a grey zone.

First impressions that stand the test of time

The minimal and clean advertisements of Apple products always gave me the impression that MacBooks are very elegant and superior in quality. I eventually got a mac and after having used it for a while, I can now say that my first impressions have proven to be so true. As a designer, for me the most cherished qualities are the colours and hyper-sharp resolution. I feel no other screens can render colours as accurately as a Mac does. In this case, my first impression is also my last.

Let’s take a look at another app. What was your first impression about the Flipkart app?

For me it was very overwhelming and confusing due to its cluttered interface, loads of information & offers – all together on a 5 inch screen. I fell into the trap of good deals and decided to take a shot at buying a coffee machine. I checked multiple sites for the best deals and got a really good deal on Flipkart. I ordered and waited with bated breath to receive my product. All my excitement went down the drain when the coffee machine that was delivered was not what I had ordered for. Moreover, the process to return it was even more annoying, slow and poorly serviced. On this occasion, my first impression was right; the experience was as overwhelming and confusing and as the interface.

But the opposite is also true. Think Amazon shopping app. It looks extremely cluttered and intimidating but is an exceptionally utilitarian app with a high conversion rate to prove its merit.

If you look at the app, the first impression is not the best, but what stands apart for amazon in this market of ecommerce is its range of products, the quality of products & the reliability of the service. Though it’s not a user friendly interface, it matches and satisfies all the customer needs with what it is right now.

In light of these facts

As an experience designer, I know that ‘jo dikhta hai, woh bikhta hai’ (What is most pleasing to the eyes is what sells the most) is backed by the Aesthetic Usability Effect. According to this effect, users prefer designs with pleasing aesthetics over those with minor usability issues. The aesthetic design is perceived as more usable by users. Creating this effect creates a positive emotional response in the brain of the users, resulting in an illusion that the product is as good as its UI.

For example here are two websites – both are selling tabs.

The first impression is stolen by Apple iPad due to its aesthetic & minimal layout. Even though both have the same information and similar products. Regardless of which you buy, you are more likely to scroll though the Apple website first by default.

Aesthetic designs, in general, look easier to use and have a higher probability of being used, whether or not they actually are easier to use. However, when interfaces suffer from severe usability issues, or when usability is sacrificed for aesthetics, users tend to lose patience. Using aesthetics to support and enhance the product’s content and functionality is the best design. It is important to note that usability should be the foundation of aesthetics. If a product only produces an aesthetic feeling rather than assisting users in completing actual tasks, then it is like artwork; might look beautiful, but that’s about as far as its usefulness goes. In his book “Emotional Design,” Don Norman provided an excellent product :

The French painter Jacques Carelman created the pot above, which is known as the “Coffeepot for Masochists” design. It’s a beautiful piece of art with a cruel fact: It’s impossible to enjoy a hot beverage without burning yourself. It is charming, playful, and artistically shaped, but because of its aesthetics, it cannot be considered an ideal tool.

Don Norman also mentioned the “Nanna teapot,” which was made by American architect Michael Grave. It is an excellent illustration of how to combine aesthetics with usability: the three tilting stages assist the user in completing the procedures for brewing tea, and it is also designed in an aesthetically elegant manner to convey a strong sense of elegance.

So the next time you’re blown away by something fancy, it might be a good idea to stop and check whether it is truly impressive and effective, or are you just being swayed by the first impression that your brain produced basis its perception of aesthetics. Afterall, all that glitters may not be gold, and likewise, all that is gold may not glitter.



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