Date of Award

8-2007

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Legacy Department

Professional Communication

Advisor

Williams, Sean

Committee Member

Holmevik , Jan

Committee Member

Hilligoss , Susan

Abstract

Many commentators of web persuasion have suggested that content is the key factor responsible for creating credible (and therefore persuasive) websites. Research in a variety of fields has been devoted to identifying accurate methods of determining a website's trustworthiness in order to help organizations promote credibility and teach users to critically analyze it. By focusing on the credibility of content, however, researchers are promoting an unbalanced perspective of web persuasiveness that privileges textual content over visual design.
This thesis hypothesizes that visual design significantly impacts web persuasiveness. First, exploration of current theories of web persuasiveness reveals the importance of persuasion in measuring a website's success and the need to expand consideration of persuasive factors beyond the credibility of content. Next, Chapter 2 demonstrates the impact of visual design through explanation of the perceptual process and the theory of halo effect. Then, design principles from theorists such as Tufte, Kress and Van Leeuwen, Mullet and Sano, and Kostelnick and Roberts are suggested as a means for determining whether or not a visual design is 'attractive.'
To study the effects of these design principles (or their absence) on web persuasiveness, I conducted a pilot study where one group of participants used an 'attractive' website while another group used an 'unattractive' version of the same website. Results from this study suggest that visual design does have a positive impact on web persuasion.

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