Inherent effect on image and branding

One of the benefits of using the techniques discussed so far to create a well organised website is that it creates a positive user experience, which then becomes associated with the brand. In the fields of architecture and urban planning, the theories of environmental psychology are sometimes applied in an effort to understand this process of association and create positive user experiences.

Environmental Psychology

As a person interacts with their environment, the memories of those interactions can form the basis of an attachment, or lack thereof, to that environment. The same theories should also be considered in regards to the web environment, where the memory of a good user experience will make it more likely for a user to return to the site. If users are basing their future decisions on previous user experiences, and those experiences are tied to a brand, the quality of those user experiences becomes even more important to brand image.


According to Ockham’s Razor, simplicity of design is preferable to complexity (Lidwell, Holden and Butler, 2010). This can be considered in conjunction with the theory of the aesthetic-usability affect, which is that an aesthetically pleasing design is perceived as easier to use than a less aesthetically pleasing equivalent (Lidwell, Holden and Butler, 2010). By using a well-structured grid layout, large quantities of content can be given an ordered structure, which makes the information simpler to process and improves the design aesthetics.

One of the ways that grids can utilise simplicity is in the way empty space is used within the structure. The design principal of Horror Vacui, which translates as “fear of emptiness”, describes the filling of all available display space with elements, creating a confused and cluttered experience (Lidwell, Holden and Butler, 2010).

From an ecommerce perspective, filling all the available space can create an environment where the purchaser has too many options to consider.

Having too many options can be confusing and paralysing, with shoppers finding it harder to make decisions, than if they were presented with fewer options. Some studies have shown that this is reflected in sales figures, where reducing the number of options in a product range can be linked to an increase in completed sales (Schwartz, 2003).


A cluttered jewellery website minus branding and colour An uncluttered jewellery website minus branding and colour

Figure 3.1: Side by side comparison of two jewellery websites.

Consider the two images above. Which brand do you consider to be more prestigious? Would you expect the stock in one of the shops to be of better quality or have a higher value compared to the other? Research in to the affects of Horror Vacui suggests that the perception of an element’s value is linked to how many elements are displayed together. The more items on display, the less value each item is perceived as having (Lidwell, Holden and Butler, 2010). In traditional forms of retail, the idea of stacking stock high and selling it cheap has existed for many years and is associated with the wholesale or bargain end of the market. It would appear that those years of conditioning also extend to ecommerce.

Consistency and the exposure effect

The layout of a website can become as big a part of a brand as the typography or the logo. As discussed earlier, the theories of Gestalt psychology indicate that people quickly learn patterns in an effort to make sense of their environment. Once a layout pattern has been established, it should therefore be adhered to. The risk to the brand of not doing this would be that site visitors perceive inconsistency as a sign of poor quality and that this is then associated with the brand. However, the reverse is also true and consistent design can be an opportunity to improve how the brand is perceived by using the design principal of the exposure effect.

The exposure effect is the theory that the repetition of simple images, text or audio relating to an entity can make the entity more familiar to those that consume the media. This familiarity can then lead to the entity becoming increasingly well liked and accepted (Lidwell, Holden and Butler, 2010).

This theory has been widely used for propaganda purposes, in advertising, and it can also be applied to the web. As well as using the concepts to bring traffic to a website, extending the familiarity concept within the site can be used to improve the perception of a brand.

The Apple store webpage

Figure 3.2: The Apple store webpage (Apple, 2013).

In this image of the Apple Store page, the branding, in terms of logos and company name, is actually quite light. However, to many people the style of the site, which includes the grid layout chosen, is instantly recognisable. The consistent application of the layout, combined with the exposure effect has created a layout that is familiar and is as much a part of the branding as other elements.