The ‘Halo’ Effect in Digital Product: From UI Design to Customer Experience

Glovory Design
5 min readApr 12, 2021


Illustration by Rafika Aulia

Love, at first sight, is never a myth — first Impression Matters.

The sentence above illustrated how the ‘Halo’ effect influences human psychology upon their decision to do anything. Indeed, it is an empirical formula worth noting in this digital business environment. For a business to keep running, going digital is not enough. Understanding this principle would give you a hint on how to improve your business and be distinguished from your competitors. It all started with a Halo-maximized UI/UX design. This article will explain the Halo effect, how to maximize it while designing your digital product, and how it can level up your marketing and leverage your business.

What is a Halo Effect?

According to Edward Thorndike, the Halo effect refers to the people’s tendency to allow one positive trait to guide a person’s overall opinion on a product or experience. It is a social-psychology phenomenon that often causes people to be biased n their judgments by transferring their feelings about one trait to other unrelated attributes. For instance, an excellent-looking individual will be perceived as more intelligent, more successful, and more trustworthy, even though there is no logical reason supporting the correlation between attractiveness and positive behavior. However, this kind of illogical reasoning still exists in this modern era.

The “halo effect” was first coined by Thorndike through his paper titled “A Constant Error in Psychological Ratings.” Based on his empirical research in 1920, Thorndike found that when people were asked to assess others based on a series of traits, only one negative perception needs to drag down all the other components’ scores. Hence, the halo effect works in both positive and negative ways. If you like one aspect of something, you will have a positive predisposition toward everything about it and vice versa. Only one lousy impression can ruin the overall image of something.

The term “Halo” refers explicitly to a glowing circle that can be seen above the heads of saints in Renaissance painting. Thus, by seeing that someone was painted with a halo, you can quickly tell that this must have been a good and worthy person. In other words, you’re simplifying your judgments from one easily observed characteristic ( — a halo) of someone to your overall impression of a person’s character.

Why Does the Halo Effect Exist?

The “halo effect” enables humans to make snap judgments because we only have to consider one aspect of something to “understand” all other elements. Snap judgment is understandable in the age of cave people: a tall person must have been eating a lot of meat, and therefore this person probably is a good hunter worth listening to. Additionally, a good-looking person would have avoided any disfigurement due to losing battles, animal bites, and diseases, making them a role model for the community. Those early age who could make fast decisions were more likely to survive to continue generations than anybody who thinks of a problem for hours. Therefore, we might have inherited the tendency to make lightning-fast judgments based on generalizing a minimal amount of data only from the first impression.

“Halo” Influences in Digital Product

Generally, the Halo effect principle could impact anything, including persons, organizations, places, products, services, etc. This time, we will focus only on its impact on digital products (app/websites). Put it simply, if users like one aspect of a digital product, they are more likely to judge it favorably in the future. On the contrary, if users have a particularly first bad experience with a site, they will be reluctant to use the app. In the latter case, even after the product is redesigned for improvement, users will still carry over their negative impression from the earlier experience.

Halo Aspects in User Experience: Aspects to Watch

One example of this practice found by the Thinking-aloud study of NN Group is the quality of an app/website’s internal search result. This feature is often perceived as the determining factor before assessing a website or an app. It is then followed by the quality of the brand behind the site and its product. A search result that is poorly done will make the users/customers think that the company/store does not care about their customers.


Another critical aspect of the user experience is the seamlessness in setting up an account. The complicated procedures in setting up an account will rub off users’ expectations for the rest of the service. Note that this perspective is reasonable, yet the conclusion does not always follow the initial impression. No one can guarantee that a physical product with good quality and excellent human service will not build a digital product with bad quality.


Visual is the Number One

Another study by Lindgaard and Dudek in 2002 found that the halo effect can simply come from the visual appeal. In that study, the website that had a high visual-appeal rating were then tested for usability. Averagely, participants’ task-failure rate on these sites was over 50%, which is unacceptable. However, despite the high failure rate, participants’ satisfaction ratings remained high. This research indicated that the look and the feel of a site had a halo effect on the entire user experience, even though these sites were poorly designed for usability.



In many events, the trait or characteristic that a user will use to assess the whole digital product can be from very judgmental heuristics and cognitive biases. The situation is when you ask your friend “What do you think about the site?”, an answer such as “It’s beautiful” is not wrong at all. Judging beauty is way simpler than evaluating usability. This is why analyzing and improving all the probabilities of Halo aspects is essential. It is important to keep the “halo effect” in mind as you plan a site or app, design flows, define key performance indicators (KPI), and measure your product performance because a dropoff at any point may lead to a poor first impression.

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Glovory Design

A global brand and experience digital product design agency that builds digital products to move at the speed of culture.