Internet users can give websites a thumbs up or thumbs down in less than the blink of an eye, according to recently published study report. and Wired recently reported on the fact that we pass judgement on a website in less than a second. This sounds like good news for web designers. Is it?

Both articles are based on a Canadian study report published in the Canadian Journal Behavior and Information Technology:

Researchers discovered that people could rate the visual appeal of sites after seeing them for just one-twentieth of a second. These judgments were not random, the researchers found—sites that were flashed up twice were given similar ratings both times.They also matched the responses given by subjects who were shown the sites for longer.

Do pretty websites work better than ugly ones?

So without any doubt, design is important. Yes, from here you could even jump to conclusions such as: That pretty websites work better than ugly ones. Paul Scrivens from Whitespace:

If that doesn’t show your clients the value great design has, then I’m not sure what does.

Actually, the results did not show how to win a positive reaction from users. Wired:

When we looked at the websites that we tested, there is really nothing there that tells us what leads to dislike or to like.

In the world’s top 100 there is not one pretty website. And some of the latest screamers such as MySpace are against all rules of good design, except for one:

The one and only design rule: Be yourself

Design and content should represent you as well as they can, then you will find YOUR audience. So design is important, but it is relevant only if it represents you as you are.

That is why MySpace has been successful: People represent themselves as they are. And they find their alike. Myspace does have a huge audience as a collective, but the individual pages don’t. And that is why websites with a big audience (eBay, Yahoo, Craigslist) have as few design elements as possible. They are graphically neutral, thus they don’t hurt anybody’s taste.