Two Essays on the Effect of Visual Design on Consumer Behavior




Li, Yuan

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My dissertation examines how visual design influences consumers’ perception and behaviors. Visual design is one of the most powerful tools companies use to attract customers’ attention, change their perception, and eventually obtain favorable purchase decisions. Visual design plays an important role in consumers’ decisions since humans’ vision accounts for approximately two-thirds of brain activity. More human neurons are dedicated to vision than the other four senses combined. This makes visual design extremely relevant today since the online shopping environment is essentially visual. In my dissertation, I probe the influence of cute images on consumers’ risk preference and the impact of action bar color on consumers’ online impulsive buying.

My first essay examines how cuteness influences consumers’ risk preference. Cute images are displayed on a wide range of products such as lottery tickets, slot machines, and casino chips. In these risk-related products, do cute images influence risk preference? If so, how and why? The extant literature seems to imply that cuteness may lead individuals to be more risk seeking or risk averse. To solve this puzzle, I integrate insights from the literature on cuteness and caring motivation to propose that cuteness leads men to be more risk-seeking and women to be more risk-averse. This is because of the different caring motivation triggered by cuteness for men versus women. Three study findings consistently support my hypotheses.

My second essay examines the effect of action bar color on consumers’ online impulsive buying. Color is probably one of the most prominent visual design elements. This is especially so in an online environment since consumers are freed from constraints such as time and location, which makes impulsive purchases more likely. I am particularly interested in how the action bar color influences consumers’ online impulsive buying. Drawn from the previous literature on color, seemingly opposite predictions are possible. Meanwhile, marketing practitioners have ongoing debates about which color will increase online sales. Aiming to reconcile the discrepancy in the literature and provide an answer to marketers, I propose the action bar color of red or blue can influence online impulsive shopping, which is contingent on consumers’ impulsiveness. In addition, I uncover the underlying process of arousal by showing that the same color of red arouses people but can lead to different impulsive buying online depending on individuals’ impulsiveness. Six studies provide triangulating support for this theorizing using data collected in the field and in the lab with different product categories and multiple operationalizations of arousal.


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arousal, color, cuteness, impulsive buying, risk preference, visual design