The Psychology of UX: Part 6

Welcome back to The Psychology of UX series! Today’s post we are going to be concentrating on the subject of Attention. How do you get someone’s attention? What do people notice? What distracts people? These are some of the questions we’ll be exploring. Let’s get started.

People pay attention to anything new and different, particularly movement.

If you think back to our palaeolithic days, we needed to be survivalists. Any movements around us could be potential threats and we had to be alert and aware in order to exist. Similarly, our “old brain” (the first part of our brain to evolve) uncontrollably notices danger, food and sex. It may seem quite brute by today’s standards, but once again it’s all about survival. We need to eat, we need to procreate, and we need to protect ourselves so that we can continue to do those things.

But what does this mean in regards to design? *When appropriate*, placement of images of food, attractive people or potential danger/violence will focus our attention quickly on that area of the page. If this is suitable to your design aims, then by all means quickly grab the attention of the old brain. However this has been abused in recent times with companies trying to get easy looks with cheap usage of these types of imagery. My favourite example of this is a company called ‘Nila Foods’, who without any restraint apply gratuitous imagery to their trucks. But hey, it worked or I wouldn’t remember their name!

We notice faces

The second most common thing that people pay attention to is faces. We can’t help but look at faces. Be it because we wanted to see another person’s emotions to develop relationships or to look for potential threats, faces capture and keep our attention; so much so that our focus will remain on the same part of the page even after the face has disappeared. When humans look at faces, we tend to look at the eyes first, so showing an image of a person looking directly into the camera is most powerful. Similarly, if we see the person in the photo looking in the direction of something, we’ll look in the same direction. Usability specialist, James Breeze’s screenshot of an eye-tracking experiment demonstrates this perfectly:

Use the senses to grab our attention

As we are limited to the visual and auditory senses with computers, we should attract those two senses using colour, size, relationship/position, noise and animation. If an entire site is designed in gentle shades of blues and then you place a bright red button in the middle, it’s going to get attention. Similarly if you reading an article on a website, your eyes will most likely scan large headings, quotes and bold text more than the body of the text. We notice anything different. Why do you think I bold specific words in my blog posts so often? šŸ™‚

However since people are easily distracted, DON’T use lots of sensory imagery and advertisements all over your website if you want a person to focus on one thing at a time.

But that doesn’t mean they always notice…

People are prone to something called “change blindess”. Depending on what we focus on, we can be completely oblivious to changes around us. Don’t believe me? Watch these two videos and be amazed at how little people notice, yourself included.

Interesting how we only really notice what we are focused on at the time. Taking this into consideration for web design, don’t assume that because you’ve made a small change to a webpage (for instance after a click to a new page) that people will notice. Make things obviously different and bold so the user will easily recognise the difference.

That’s all for today! Hope this will help you focus your users’ attention with a clear purpose in mind, and refocus it effortlessly when the purpose changes. Thanks for reading.


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