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Website Visual Design Qualities: A Threefold Framework
Hartono E., Holsapple C. ACM Transactions on Management Information Systems10 (1):1-21,2019.Type:Article
Date Reviewed: May 19 2022

This work contributes to the literature on information systems by studying a theoretical perspective “that integrates three [major] dimensions of artifact visual design quality”: the aesthetic, functional, and symbolic dimensions. The authors investigate website visual design qualities that may serve to influence visitors’ attitudes and behaviors. Their results indicate that a website’s aesthetic, functional, and symbolic qualities “positively influence intention to use the website and positive word of mouth” (that is, the likelihood that users will recommend the website to others).

The paper has an almost three-page reference section and a very thorough review of the literature, which the authors break down in a table: 1) those works that address how the functional quality of a website impacts the “attitudes and behaviors of website visitors”; 2) “only one empirical study examined the effect of symbolic quality on attitudes and behaviors of website visitors”; and 3) “no study has examined how the three qualities influence one another.” As a result, the authors posit several hypotheses to determine the interrelationships among the aesthetic, functional, and symbolic qualities of websites.

The sample consists of 254 participants “randomly recruited from an online ... population.” Each was assigned to evaluate one of five not-heavily-visited websites, which they had not seen before. They were then asked to complete a 15-item online survey (using SurveyMonkey), part of which is found in the appendix, in which responses were registered in a Likert scale. The results were tested for validity and reliability and show that relationships among variables were significant, “giving evidence that all hypotheses are supported.”

The authors’ research confirms that “the appeal, attractiveness, or beauty of website visual design (that is, aesthetic quality) has the highest impact on first impression[s].” Aesthetic quality positively influences both functional and symbolic qualities. However, the authors also indicate two important contributions of their study: 1) “symbolic quality is the most influential quality, functional quality is the second most influential quality, and aesthetic quality is the least influential quality” when it comes to a visitor’s intentions to use a website; and 2) e-commerce managers and web designers should assess all three visual design qualities (aesthetic, functional, and symbolic) and avoid focusing on only one of these factors.

It is important to note that the work combines the perspectives of many disciplines, including “human factors and ergonomics, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and organizational behavior.” Web design psychology and marketing are also relied upon. Thus, the paper will be of use to e-commerce managers, web designers and users, as well as marketing directors who want their websites to have the best visual design qualities.

The study recognizes some limitations that need to be addressed in future research. For one, “[the] aesthetic, functional, and symbolic dimensions of website visual design qualities are subjective,” impacted by the cultural, social, and personal backgrounds of both the designers and users. Likewise, balancing the three dimensions may not be feasible at times, but should still be kept in mind.

Reviewer:  Cecilia G. Manrique Review #: CR147441 (2207-0100)
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