An introduction to five second testing

First impressions count. Count first impressions.

Introduction

Five second testing is a form of usability testing that allows you to measure how well a design quickly communicates a message. This kind of test provides both quantitative and qualitative feedback that helps you optimize a design.

A five second test is run by showing an image to a participant for just five seconds, after which the participant answers questions based on their memory and impression of the design. 

The image you test could be a website, graphic design, app design, prototype, wireframe, logo, or copy — anything that needs to communicate a message.

Why five seconds? Studies have found that visitors only spend a few seconds assessing your website before deciding whether to stay or leave.

“When we give users more than five seconds to study the page, we’ve found they start looking at the page more like a designer, noticing details they would normally miss or misinterpret.” (Perfetti, 2005)

One study has even found that users can make an initial assessment in as little as 50 milliseconds, which is quicker than the blink of an eye (Hopkin, 2006). 


Common questions

While there are many uses for the five second test, the most common themes are:

  • Do people understand the product or service?
  • Do people feel they will receive a benefit from the page?
  • Can people recall the company or product name?

These questions are important, because if a page quickly and easily communicates all of this information, then it’s more likely to capture the right audience. This is a key factor when designing improvements that are focused on increasing conversion and engagement. 

In particular, optimizing landing pages in this way can have a significant impact on your success metrics. You can create a raft of design variations, test them, and quickly iterate to find the best solution.


How to interpret the results

One of the best things about five second tests is that analyzing the results is a straightforward task. Generally, you can simply categorize the results into one group of participants that ‘got it’, and another who didn’t. 

If more than around 80% of participants are in the first group, then you’ve got a successful design on your hands. If this number is much lower, then some changes are likely necessary. 

It’s critical to look at the free text feedback from both groups. Sometimes, opinions from participants who missed the point will converge on similar ideas or themes. This is a clear indication that there’s a red herring in your design that is throwing people off.   

Important considerations

Five second testing is only appropriate when you need to measure users’ very first impressions. If you need to measure comprehension of complex information, then another type of test may be more appropriate. 

For example, five second testing would not be suitable for:

Examples