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Designing for Human Attention

13 September 2017

PG thought this item had relevance to author promo, website and cover design decisions.

From UX Planet:

I have always been fascinated by the way the human mind works. I am also convinced that being familiar with cognitive sciences is one of the key skills of any designer. To better myself professionally and perhaps to help other people learn something new, I decided to write about the cognitive topics I am interested in.

. . . .

Although the design is perceived by our senses (vision, touch, hearing), it is immediately processed by our brain. As designers, we have to understand how to create experiences that go hand in hand with how the human brain evaluates them. While being a designer, you have the power to control the human mind during and even beyond the interaction with the product.

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Attention = working memory

Everything we see, hear, touch or smell is processed by our brain and affects our memory system. This system is divided into:

  • working memory
  • short-term memory
  • long-term memory

Working memory contains information about the focus of our attention. As the capacity of our working memory is rather small (research shows the capacity can range between 5–7 unrelated concepts), our attention is considerably selective. Our brain is simply not able to process all that is happening around us at once. It is instead narrowing down its focus to the most relevant pieces of information. The relevancy is determined by our own objectives.

Our brains receive about 11 million bits of data per second, but we’re only able to process roughly 50 bits per second.

Information from the working memory can be lost very easily if the focus shifts. Many of us can relate to a situation like this one:

In the middle of counting someone suddenly interrupts you. Afterwards you have to start all over again, because you don’t remember exactly where you left off.

You walk into a room, suddenly realising you have forgotten the reason you went there in the first place.

. . . .

While using the search function on a website, users enter the search terms and then review the results. The attention shifts from the input to the results. That means the users often forget what the initially typed search parameters were. Sites with a search function should have the input parameters displayed prominently even when already showing the search results.

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Nowadays, our brain gets most of its information through the eye. Our eyes play an important role in how we perceive design. The structure of the human eye is complex, but the most important finding is that there is a part of the eye called an “eye fovea” in the central part of the eye. It is a small circle (1.5 mm wide) and it is the part through which our brain gets most of its information. There are 3 reasons for this:

  1. This small part of the eye has a significantly bigger resolution than the rest of it.
  2. The cells in the fovea are also connected 1:1 to the ganglial nerve (which transfers information to the brain), which is why they don’t have any data compression — in contrast with other parts of the eye.
  3. The fovea is only about 1% the size of the entire eye, but the visual cortex of our brain devotes 50% of its resources to it.

All of this results in humans having a very narrow focus.

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These findings are easily applicable to design. Users are not able to see the whole website at once. They can merely scan the page. That means their eyes jump very fast from one part to another. The most attractive usually is the part of the website that is in contrast or involves any kind of motion.

. . . .

Important, mutually related information has to be shown in a compact way, so that users can perceive these elements together. Use the gestalt principle of proximity that says:

Objects or shapes that are close to one another appear to form groups.

Link to the rest at UX Planet

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Covers

One Comments to “Designing for Human Attention”

  1. Early corporate web designers paid attention to principles of good design for knowledge organization/presentation and human attention.

    Then they quit paying attention because there wasn’t enough time to worry about such things.

    Some early standardizations and hierarchical designs came out of this, but then things like JSON design came along and erased all the distinctions. Now we have a file of cognitively dissonant web presentations that require close parsing and are rife with missing but necessarily contextual info.

    In fact, look at the UX Planet page, with its distracting footer and header that pull the eye and reduce the ability to grasp the larger structure of the text. And yet that’s a pretty minimalist design. Still, it’s oriented to narrow screens, like cellphones, another version of narrowed focus.

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