First impressions are lasting impressions, this usually is said, in reference to meeting new people. The same holds true to spaces people walk into. The psychology and research behind this tenth of a second moment are extensive and interesting to read about. Our conceptions (misconceptions), primal thoughts, fears, judgment are all in hyper-mode when we first encounter a person or space.
When I first walk to meet a client, usually at their home or office, I pause just a few seconds before I enter. And after adjusting the sunglasses over my head, I'll take a deep breath and walk into the space - trying to make the most of the that tiny instinctual first impression moment. That moment to me packs a powerful tool I draw upon time and time again throughout the whole design process. It's an authentic rare and fragile moment, and trying to re-create or change that moment, especially for small businesses, is a challenging process. That first impression usually sets the expectation and mode of the encounter. Same as people put effort into the suit they will be wearing the morning of a job interview, that same care and effort should be taken into creating that fist impression moment of entry to a space. But most of us neglect that unique and one of a kind transitional entry space (be honest now - how does your home or office entryway look like?). It's usually last on my client's list to invest in, especially at an age where having a reception area is becoming more more obsolete. Herein there lies the biggest mistake I feel many do.
Stop for a moment and think about any event you walk into. Break it down to every millisecond you were there - were you hot or cold, did anyone greet you, how did the space smell, was the light bright or dim, were you able to orient yourself easily, was the ceiling high or low, was there anything that caught your eye, how was the sound around you, was it crowded, were you able to find a place you'd feel comfortable standing in. The reason I ask you to break down that first impression feeling at an event, is because when entering one, we come geared up to absorb these details. Now ask these questions about how you feel when you first walk into a job interview at your future company. Try and notice what are the first things you see/feel/smell/touch. I urge many clients to put some effort into that space (a good example of grand scale entry spaces are hotel lobbies).
The best first impression masters I can think of is actually the Catholic church. Any big cathedral will have the same sort of look and feel to it (brand and corporate identity reenforced by design); A grand entryway, then as you walk through the door the ceiling above you is lowered to create intimacy or make you feel small and meek as your eyes are automatically drawn ahead of you, where the ceiling is an unimaginable hight, and a clear line of vision is set to the one of the most recognizable icons in the world. A perfectly orchestrated first impression delivery.
Think about your brand-identity, or as it's now being called, company culture, not only in terms of web presence, letter heads, cool lounge areas, and logos. Think about the message you'd like to convey in that fleeting precious first impression moment.