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Design impulse tests

Impulse test screen shot

We use several techniques to establish a design direction on a new site. One of the simplest and most versatile is the Impulse Test, which consists of quickly showing the client or a group of users a set of images and asking for their immediate reaction.

You can use the Test for specific interactions, for logos, or for competitor analysis. Mostly we use it as a means of getting agreement amongst important stakeholders about the overall look and feel of the new site. Clients will often supply a set of desirable design attributes but two people in the same organisation may well have entirely different understandings of a word such as "modern".

Our task is firstly to replace words with practical visual examples and secondly to provide a space in which the stakeholders can discuss amongst themselves what is most appropriate for their charity, NGO or university. This may lead into a wider conversation about branding, typography and colours, about users and audiences, and about the site structure and navigation.

The Test doesn't tell us what the site will look like - this is just the start of the design process starts - but it does give us a good steer. Significantly, it also establishes a common language of visual design with the client, something that can prove very valuable later in the project.

What you need

  • A slideshow of 8-12 static screenshots. The slideshow needs to move on automatically after 20 seconds. Each slide should be labelled with a letter or number.
    • For example, an academic website redesign uses homepages at wider screen widths, and includes images from charity, library and commercial websites as well as from academic sites. This cover a range of approaches.
    • If performing the Test with real users, you may want to change the focus of the exercise to be on the navigation or on interactions: 'Would you know where to go?'
    • Optional: a key that links your numbering or letting to the name of the site and its URL.
  • A 30-45 minute meeting with a group of stakeholders and at least two people from the development team.
  • Sheets for recording responses. Ideally this will be a simple Likert scale, where 1 is strong dislike and 5 is strong like.
  • Pens or pencils.
  • Access to a spreadsheet in order to record the ratings.

How it works

  • Give everyone a response sheet and ask them to put their names at the top.
  • Ask them to rate each design, taking into consideration their own tastes and their own organisation.
  • Show the slideshow (2-3 minutes)
  • Show the slideshow again. Ask the group to add notes this time about things that stand out from each design. They may also change their ratings now that they have seen more designs.
  • Collect all of the ratings. One of you should enter it them into a spreadsheet and calculate the sites that garnered the most and least positive responses, whilst the other starts a general conversation about the Test.

The discussion

  • Once the results have been calculated, turn the conversation to the most popular designs. Identify which aspects were particularly effective, and consider whether these would be appropriate for the new site (for instance, if a design relies on professionally taken photographs, does the client have access to similarly high quality and relevant images?). Also ask those people who didn't like the design for their opinions.
  • If time allows, you may want to show people the live sites, and how they works in practice and at mobile widths.
  • Consider at least one of less popular designs.
  • Allow the group to fuly explore and clarify their opinions.
  • Ask specific questions about design features you would like guidance on and try to summarise the preferences of the room in a way that will be useful for your own designs.


This is a great way to start a design conversation: it is quick, engages a lot of stakeholders at the same time and provides some pointers on the direction you will go. It is of course only a measure of impulsive reactions, and many other factors will be taken into account, not least the needs of users. However, many internal stakeholders want their site to 'pop' and this exercise is excellent for stimulating conversation about the balance between impact and usability.

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