Five-Second Testing

First impressions count. Count first impressions.

Introduction

Five-second testing is a form of usability testing that allows you to determine whether a design quickly communicates an intended message or impression. It can provide both quantitative and qualitative feedback that lets you optimize a design and encourages iterative improvement.

A five-second test is run by showing an image to the participant for just five seconds, after which they answer some questions based only on their memory from the brief exposure. The image you test could be a website, graphic design, app design, prototype, wireframe, logo, or text.

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 (Hopkin, 2006)!

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

  • Do people understand the product or service on offer?
  • Do people have a positive first impression of the page?
  • 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 is likely to see stronger conversions.

Key benefits of five-second testing

  • Tests are easy to set up and quick to run
  • They reveal critical information about users' first impressions that can't be obtained from analytics or standard design surveys
  • They can provide both quantitative and qualitative feedback

Five-second tests assist in improving the conversion rate of a website. In particular, optimizing landing pages can have a significant impact, increasing usage of the rest of the site. You can create variations of a design, test them, and iterate to find the best solution.

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:

  • a page that requires lots of reading (better served by a question test),
  • predicting user behavior (better served by a click test or navigation test), and
  • asking complex questions (better served by a question test).

Testing Websites

Testing a website to optimize the conversion rate is the most popular use of five-second testing. Restricting participants to a brief exposure of the page ensures that all feedback is based on first impressions only, allowing you to optimize your design and copy for speed of comprehension and to make the best possible first impression.

Key questions

  • What is the purpose of the page?
  • What is memorable about the website?
  • Do people recall the company?

Example tests

Testing Designs

By five-second testing a design or wireframe, you can discover how memorable it is as well as what people take away from the design after a short look. This can help improve the crucial elements of your design or give you ideas about what should be re-worked to make it stand out more.

Key questions

  • What do people remember about a design?
  • Do people recognize a design?
  • How do people feel about the design?
  • What do people think an icon means?

Example tests

  • “What do you remember about the design you just saw?”
    Determine what people consider the most memorable elements of a design.
  • “What do you think the icon you viewed means?”
    Show an icon to participants and discover what they remember about it.
  • “What did you like about the design you viewed?”
    Gain feedback on how people relate to a design emotionally.

Testing Content

Well-written content is an often overlooked factor in any design. Whether your copy is memorable, and to the point, can be difficult to find out. Using a five-second test you can gain feedback on your copy, giving you insight into people’s understanding of the text.

Key questions

  • Do people understand the message you’re trying to convey?
  • What do people remember about your copy?

Example tests

  • “What was the text you just read about?”
    Find out what people took away from your copy to gain insight into whether your core messaging is successfully coming through.
  • “Would you click on the heading after reading it? Why?”
    Ideal for social media and headlines, find out what people thought about your text after a short look and, most importantly, know why they would or wouldn’t click on it.