Testing a Visual Design

Written by Vamsi Konduri|3 min read|

Increasingly, graphical information such as fonts, colours, orientation and images are required not only to create a functional interface but also to convey complex product attributes such as friendliness, consistency or creativity. 

“ If companies have a lot to gain from successful branding, it is important to analyse aesthetic choices and their effects on perceptions of users through a systematic and data-driven approach. “

We don’t need to have any technical experience. If fact, users can accurately rate in less than a second how much they like visuals.


We use a more structured approach to evaluate the product, including 2 main parts:

  • Visual stimulation sensitivity: Display the visual design of a static image, a model, or a live interactive website or application to the study participants.
  • Assessment of the reactions: Measure the reactions of users to the model using relevant questions.


You can easily adapt the test stimulation you use to work with various types of research studies. You can simply show people a static image in visual-design evaluations, either printed on paper or displayed on a screen.

If you are interested in first impressions, the visual stimulus will be presented to the user for a short time. There are two ways to accomplish this goal.

  • 5-second test: This approach is best for accurately capturing people’s ‘gut reaction.’
  • First-click test: This method is best suited if the first time you visit your audience, you expect your users to have a common goal in mind.


If you ask participants to assess more than one design, be sure to vary the order in which they see the alternatives, since part of people’s response may be influenced by which version they see first.

Showing users more than one possible visual design helps them to identify the variations they like or not. Small changes such as minor variations in font sizes or similar fonts replacements may be visible to a graphic designer but are often undetectable to the average user. Asking people to identify these subtle details actively and analyze them will most likely just confuse them and waste your time.

Assessing User Reactions

This can be achieved with open-ended suggestions, but using a much more structured approach makes overall trends easier to understand. Here are a few methods that can be used, from fully open to highly organized.

  • Open-ended preference explanation: Ask users to explain why they like a design.
  • Open word choice: Ask users to list 3 to 5 words that describe the design
  • Closed word choice (desirability testing): Provide users with a list of terms and ask them to pick the words which best describe the design
  • Numerical ratings: Collect numerical ratings about how much the design exhibits specific brand qualities


By presenting a restricted set of words to consumers, this approach focuses specifically on whether participants understand the desired product attributes. It can also be used in a remote study, but it’s not a good idea to combine this with a ‘5-second’ test format because looking through a long list of words may take so much time that by users get to the end they don’t recall much about a design they only saw for 5 seconds.