Does Good Web Design Really Matter?

by Joseph Putnam

Last updated on February 22nd, 2018

I recently had a conversation with a client that went like this:

Client: Does it really matter what my website looks like?
Me: Yes, it definitely does.
Client: Why?
Me: Because people will judge your company based on the quality of your website, whether that’s fair or not.

That ended up being a good enough answer, prompting him to give the go ahead to redesign his site.

But the question made me stop and consider:

How do you prove good web design makes a difference online?

Sure, every web designer will tell you that design has a profound impact, which is an intuitive answer, but what evidence is there that supports the claim?

Here’s what I found out.

A Study About Health Websites

Later in the week after my conversation with the client, I came across a study referenced by Derek Halpern of Social Triggers. It was titledTrust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites. I thought it might provide insight about web design, so I checked it out.

The goal of the study was to answer this question:

How much impact does design have on trust and mistrust of health websites and how much impact does the quality of the content have?

The results were nothing short of astounding.

For the test, 15 participants were directed to search the internet for health information that was relevant to them, and then they were asked to discuss their first impressions of the websites they visited.

Of all the factors that were mentioned for rejecting or mistrusting a website, 94% were design related; only 6% were content related.

Can you believe that?

When deciding whether or not they trusted a health website, participants mentioned design related issues 15 times more than content related issues. That’s incredible.

Specific design problems that led to rejection or mistrust were:

  • Inappropriate name for the website
  • Complex, busy layout
  • Lack of navigation aids
  • Boring web design, especially use of color
  • Pop up advertisements
  • Slow introductions to a site (splash pages, slow-loading flash introductions, etc)
  • Small print
  • Too much text
  • Corporate look and feel
  • Poor search facilities/indexes

These kinds of complaints accounted for 94% of the reasons that users rejected or mistrusted a site. Here’s a quote from the study that sums this up:

“The look and feel of the website was clearly important to the participants. Visual appeal, plus design issues relevant to site navigation appeared to exert a strong influence on people’s first impressions of the site. Poor interface design was particularly associated with rapid rejection and mistrust of a website. In cases where the participants did not like some aspect of the design the site was often not explored further than the homepage and was not considered suitable for revisiting at a later date…The main reason that websites were rapidly rejected was due to the design of the interface. Design issues affected first impressions and could lead to the mistrust of a website.”

Here are some samples of what specifically some of the study participants had to say about the poorly designed sites:

“[On] one of them I didn’t like the color of [it]. I couldn’t wait to get out. It was an insipid green backdrop. It just put me off reading it.”

“There was nothing I liked about it at all. I didn’t like the colors, the text, the layout.”

“I found the screen too busy. I couldn’t quite latch onto anything straight away.”

As you can see, design has a significant impact on website visitors. Not only does it affect them, but as this study shows, it is the most influential factor in whether people trust or mistrust a site.

Most web designers know this without reading a paper, but this study confirms that design elements as simple as color, layout, text block size, and navigation can make a difference when trying to increase conversions online.

Just in case this study doesn’t provide enough proof for you, here is more insight on design from the realm of packaged goods.

Customer Perceptions and Packaging Design

Web design is similar to packaging design for consumer goods. In both cases, people pay for the product or service, but they’re also influenced by the “packaging.”

This is discussed in the book Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. Chapter 5 of the book discusses the effect packaging design has on customer perception, citing case studies from Cheskin, a well known marketing research and insights company.

Years ago, Mr. Cheskin, the company founder, came up with a theory that consumers don’t make a distinction between a product and it’s packaging. Instead, in consumer’s minds, the product is a combination of the packaging and the product.

Based on this theory, packaging matters a lot because it provides a customer’s first impression with a brand. Mr. Cheskin’s company went on to test this theory, and here are some of the results they’ve found:

  • If you add 15 percent more yellow to the green on 7 UP packaging, people report that it has more lime or lemon flavor, even though the drink itself was left untouched.
  • On a can of Chef Boyardee Ravioli, a picture of a close up of a real human face influences perceived quality more than a full body shot or a cartoon character.
  • In the Hormel logo, adding a sprig of parsley between the ‘r’ and ‘m’ causes customers to perceive the products as being more fresh.

As these examples show, packaging impacts customer impressions so much, the perceived quality and taste of the products can be affected.

This is true for packaged goods, and it’s true for websites.

The application for web design

A website’s design often provides the first impression customers have of a company. If the design is outdated, disorganized, cluttered, or uses unappealing colors, it creates a poor first impression.

Going back to the original conversation used to introduce this blog post, after designing my client’s new site, I asked two co-workers whether they would be more likely to purchase from the old site, which was old and outdated, or the new site, which was built based on modern web design standards. Here’s what they had to say:

  • “I would trust [the new site] because you would assume that if they have enough money to produce a nice looking website, they have enough money to pay for more security.”
  • “I would buy from the [new] one. The [old] site looks too simple, almost as it was thrown together quickly, and it [has] too many icons down the right column which gives me a slight feeling that it may not be legitimate.”

Based on these answers and the studies above, good web design has a significant impact on potential customers.

If you’re about to build a site or if you’re considering a redesign of a current one, it’s not necessary for your website to be the most beautiful site online, but it does need to look good. It needs to convey quality and professionalism with an organized, uncluttered layout, good use of appealing colors, and text blocks that are easy to read.

These studies show that it’s worthwhile to invest in a good web design because in the end, customer perception is what really matters.



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Joseph Putnam

Joe Putnam is the founder of ConversionEngine, an agency that builds conversion funnels which help clients generate more profit from PPC. He’s helped organizations increase SEO traffic 769%, cut their cost per acquisition in half, and 12X their leads from AdWords. He also co-wrote two in-depth guides with Neil Patel: the definitive guide to copywriting and the definitive guide to conversion rate optimization.


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  1. Marcus Alonso says:
    May 16, 2017 at 9:14 am

    Apart from good and interactive web design your website’s content also matters. However, one should always represent their business in a clean way. At the end when you are new to freelancing or have a new company then its hard to make clients understand, you have to agree with whatever the clients requirements are in a very tight budget.

  2. Anonymous says:
    January 9, 2016 at 6:30 am

    Great post. I was checking constantly this weblog and I’m inspired!
    Very helpful info specifically the closing part 🙂 I handle such information much.
    I was looking for this particular info for a very lengthy time.

    Thanks and best of luck.

  3. Kaushal Patel says:
    August 25, 2015 at 5:50 am


    Great Post. I never thought people would choose the website based on the design. This research can help the designers to select different aspects like color, images, navigation, banners etc.

  4. Gabe says:
    August 4, 2015 at 10:17 pm

    Great post by the way, 1 hundred percent correct here. Design matters but it is really interesting to see how so many would be entrepreneurs and business owners make excuses as to why they parade around garbage looking designs that only serve to hurt reputation and reduce conversion rates. Clean and professional is the way to go. I am a web designer in Calgary and I must say that I talk to so many would be entrepreneurs that make excuses to avoid paying for a professional website. Its very laughable because the biggest excuse that I get is I have Facebook.

  5. Steve says:
    June 4, 2015 at 7:04 am

    The Design of website, gives a company to brand online, website design should reflect the brand, product,service and trust. I have came across lot of websites, that use poor color schemes,layouts,ux and ui. Although they had best and unique product to offer, due to design and ux failure. They are unable to meet the customers, they are looking for, as a Internet Marketing Expert I feel web design is an important element to connect with your customers.

    • June 4, 2015 at 10:37 am

      You’re so right, Steve. Especially today, your design is a “first impression.” It needs to be good.

  6. Mihai says:
    March 30, 2015 at 4:58 pm

    First of all i would like to say hello and congratulations for such a good post ! I know about web design a little bit as im working on this field now and i know how much imports the good design this days.I use to do diseño web San Pedro Alcantara , Marbella – Spain ( web design San pedro de Alcantara ) .. And most of the peoples from here they dont care about a good web design.. so each time i create a web i need to explain them step by step. Hope in future all the people will be like us 🙂 . I think its better for someone to create a README DOC Great Post and Best Regards

    • March 30, 2015 at 5:08 pm

      Thanks, Mihai, and glad we’re on the same page. Good design is a critical part of conversion rate optimization.

      • Mihai says:
        March 30, 2015 at 6:11 pm

        Hey Kathryn, thanks for your reply ! That’s why we are here to “show them all” .. Anyway keep up the good work. Best Regards, Mihai D

  7. shakil says:
    September 12, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Congratulations to a brilliant effort in publishing your article. One can be more informative as this. There are many things I can know only after reading your wonderful article

  8. April 1, 2014 at 5:48 pm

    Great post. We’re redesigning our web application and your post does reflect our experince.

  9. Ross Hall says:
    January 6, 2014 at 5:08 am

    I’ve read through a few of these studies in the past and the bit that seems to be missing is the link between pre-established credibility and the site in question.

    Unfortunately the health study link now redirects to a 404 page, but I would like to know whether a Brit, for example, would instinctively trust for health information, regardless of site design. Afterall, it is run by our National Health Service!

    It would also be interesting to see whether the presence of images of people on pages has an effect as well. Would we be more likely to trust a page with a smiling face beaming out at us?

  10. June 14, 2013 at 2:33 am

    Very useful research. I agree with what the writer has said in the article. A good web design sets a tone for your business, the same as a showroom displays your products. The bottom line is people will judge your business based on the looks of your website. While it doesn’t have to be award winning you want your design to send a message of trust, professionalism and quality.

  11. June 10, 2013 at 12:57 am

    Newly approaching customers having no idea of the designing have this common query in mind and thats where our approachment comes. This is really a great approach and a great article. Thanks for sharing it !!

  12. Anonymous says:
    November 6, 2012 at 8:33 pm

    Great article and well written, it’s common sense really but some companies have no idea. The case study proved the point well and I will be showing it to a few people for sure! Many thanks Jا

  13. Jonathan Gale says:
    January 4, 2012 at 9:07 am

    Great article and well written, it’s common sense really but some companies have no idea. The case study proved the point well and I will be showing it to a few people for sure! Many thanks J

  14. asad says:
    December 29, 2011 at 3:57 am


    Thanks for your nice information on.I like it.


  15. Jeffrey Bennett says:
    December 26, 2011 at 4:48 am

    Absolutely fantastic article! I’ve been saying this for years and I’m glad to finally read some actually evidence to prove it. Well done!

  16. Navigator Multimedia says:
    December 21, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    What an awesome resource to show clients that need some convincing of a re-design! I enjoyed the references to Gladwell’s book, Blink. Another one of his books, Outliers, offers some awesome insight into how our greatest innovators came to be as successful and gifted as they are. For designers aiming high ( as we all should), it’s an empowering read.
    Sarah Bauer
    Navigator Multimedia

  17. Chris says:
    December 21, 2011 at 12:36 am

    In my opinion what it boils down to is brand experience. Successful companies place a lot of focus on their brand experience for the consumer. That experience carries through everything that company does. For example, use Nike, the global leader in sportswear. Their brand experience is second to none, from their sponsored athletes, to the stores, the packaging, the advertising and the consumer website is all crafted and designed to promote an experience for their customers.

    Another example would be Apple. Yes, cliche, but you can’t argue their brand and its influence on consumers. Any kind of Apple communication, be it in the store, online, through email or in print, the brand experience matches.

    A website can be beautifully designed, but if it doesn’t match the brand it fails at creating new customers. Brands build trust. That trust is built on the consumer experience with that brand. So yes, design matters and your points are true. The fundamental concept is brand. So good web design with poor brand experience is still an all around poor user experience. It all works together.

    As designers, it’s our job to understand our clients brand and build a proper experience online for their customers.

    • Joseph Putnam says:
      December 21, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      Hi Chris,

      Thanks for the great comment. Since more and more customers interact with companies online, websites have become a very important extension of a brand and therefore need to be treated as such.

  18. Daniel Hughes says:
    December 20, 2011 at 4:48 am

    Hey Joseph, Very useful research, Joseph. Thanks for sharing. On the other hand, very few websites were able to be successful with poor design and good usability….Keep it up….

    Best wishes from the Team PC Support

  19. Justin Jackson says:
    December 19, 2011 at 2:01 pm

    Should we trust a study (“Trust and Mistrust of Online Health Sites”) when there were only 15 participants? That doesn’t seem to be a large enough baseline to create an accurate picture of how the average user will react to bad design.

    • Steve says:
      December 20, 2011 at 8:00 pm
    • Joseph Putnam says:
      December 21, 2011 at 12:16 pm

      Would I take this as the final study ever needed on the effect of design has on credibility, no, but you’d also be surprised what you can learn from 15 people. This study is definitely a piece in the puzzle of learning how much design influences behavior online.

  20. Lyena Solomon says:
    December 19, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    Very useful research, Joseph. Thanks for sharing. One important thing to remember is usability. When design trumps usability bad things happen after launch. 🙂 On the other hand, very few websites were able to be successful with poor design and good usability (ahm.. craigslist).

    • Russ Henneberry says:
      December 19, 2011 at 1:10 pm

      @Lyena — Drudge Report too.

      • Joseph Putnam says:
        December 21, 2011 at 12:10 pm

        I would put Google on this list as well. They get away with not having sites that look incredibly gorgeous, although they are amazing when it comes to simplicity and usability.

        For everyone else, good design plus great usability is very important.

    • Joseph Putnam says:
      December 21, 2011 at 12:20 pm

      Hi Lyena,

      I need to comment again because your comment was so good. 🙂

      I’m a firm believer that usability is even more important than design. Some people have beautiful websites that are impossible to use, while others have beautiful websites that are easy to use (MailChimp comes to mind here). Still other people have good looking websites that are very easy to use. It’s better to be in this latter category than to be in the first because poor usability is the death knell for websites regardless of how good the design is.

      Thank you for your excellent comment. 🙂

      • Jeremy Olson says:
        January 23, 2012 at 12:17 pm

        Hey Joseph! I read the article not even realizing you wrote it. Great stuff! The same is true in the app world (where I’m currently stationed). One of my friends recently told me he switched banks because his old bank’s app was poorly designed. Just as websites are the companies’ “face”, apps are now becoming more and more the same. It’s how people interface with your company. Companies need to realize that not only does bad design leave a bad impression but, especially when users have to deal with it on a daily or weekly basis (like in a Bank app), people are making their choice of services based on that user interface, whether it’s an app or a website.

        Also, I know it’s just a matter of semantics but in my opinion “design” includes usability. Usability, along with visual design, are all part of the equation that makes up great design. In fact, visual design can often play into usability and vice versa. Neither should be ignored or neglected.

  21. JIgnesh Gohel says:
    December 19, 2011 at 4:30 am

    Niel, i had a same discussion with our marketing and design team while redesigning the website. I am in IT outsourcing business since 5 years and found tons of companies offering outsourcing services now; one question which always stuck in my mind is; what if a small company/individual/freelancer design corporate website that has all qualities discussed here (you know it is not that much difficult to design a website that has corporate brands and user friendly navigation) and claiming that the company is large and providing best services (here it is not truth right? ). At first glance, by visiting their website; one can easily believe what they are claiming but how can we identify whether they are legitimate company or not?

    Here there is big dilemma while working with offshore companies to find trusted service provider. I do agree with design of website but there is a big challenge in finding authentic service provider…One more discussion is require on this topic 🙂

    • Subraya Mallya says:
      December 19, 2011 at 10:59 am

      Jignesh, I would just not bother working with any particular offshore provider and instead use You get to pick the one that did the best and risk mitigated.

      • jignesh says:
        December 19, 2011 at 10:10 pm

        99design is good place to get best design/logo/graphics but here i am talking about whole project. One can not relay on single website to get it done 🙂

        Apart from this, i have worked with various companies providing best solution at competitive rates. We have to consider overall cost to right?

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