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Cognitive Psychology for UX: The Principle of Limited Attention

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Humans can’t physically pay attention to every single thing in their environment. Today, we can access hundreds of TV channels, thousands of shows and films on streaming services, and countless amounts of videos that are uploaded to YouTube every day, hour, and even minute. Moreover, people on average manage to look through about 3,000 marketing messages daily. Not mentioning all the hours spent on email, instant messaging, and conference calls. There is not enough time for all the things that surround us in this modern, fast-paced world.

Specialists claim that human brains receive about 11 mil bits of data every second, but can only process just about 50 bits per second. In other words, there is a significant difference between the amount of information flowing into the human mind and the amount it can handle.

The thing is that the market sees an increasing growth of digital products flowing into it. All of them get people’s attention – websites, apps, services, etc. UX design agencies and their teams have a lot on their hands to deal with to make an app that is going to be noticed, used, and remembered.

Ever-Decreasing Attention

Imagine that you arrive at the airport early before your scheduled flight. As you start towards your plane, a stranger asks you about the way to the gate. While you weren’t expecting to find yourself in this situation, you still have several spare minutes, so you help the stranger find the way to their gate.

Let’s say you’re late instead. So, you’re rushing through a crowded airport, trying to make it to your gate in time. Along the way, three or four other people approach you asking you questions. In the case that the same stranger from the first example asks the same question about their gate, you will most probably provide them with a mixed response.

Generally, a modern person lives in a noisy, crowded environment resembling the airport scene described above. There are too many things that require our attention. At the same time, we don’t have even strictly enough time for all of that. It eventually results in our perception of most things around us as background noise.

In other words, in the current world economy, attention is becoming an increasingly rare and precious thing. So, how do you make the end-user pay attention to the right things in your digital product? How do you make them notice your product in the first place? Let’s see.

Provide Users Only with the Things They Need

First of all, you should ask: what do the users need? You and your team’s opinion is not enough to make an informed decision on this matter. Although many people working with consumers and making things for them think they know what the latter need, UX designers still need data to be up to date and be able to test the hypotheses.

It’s essential to use data from numerous sources to get a more accurate and objective picture. Integrating the insights gained from both knowledge and experience, qualitative sources, and quantitative web analytics, including session replays, remote usability tests, and surveys, among other things, will do just right.

By giving users only the essential information required for the fulfillment of their immediate needs, your UX design team will get rid of distractions and boost the probability of successfully accomplishing their goals. 

Pages Have to Be Simple to Scan

Usually, users look at the page or screen, scan at least some text, and then proceed to click the first link that grabs their attention or that they think can help solve their problem. Therefore, when designing a page, it’s better to focus on making it more scannable than readable.

Here are some of the tips your design team may consider when designing a page or screen:

  • You should put the essential elements in places where you are most likely to notice them;
  • Decide what features are most relevant and develop a visual hierarchy to guide users to them in the first row;
  • Remove anything that doesn’t make a real impact;
  • Use headings, make short paragraphs and bullet points to make the page or screen more scannable.

Also, remember that users usually quickly lose interest when they encounter long texts. Focus on providing them with the necessary information and allow them to decide whether they want to learn more or not.

Conduct Exploratory User Research

Users are not the only ones affected by inattention – UX designers are subject to it, too. When your team is conducting user research, it usually tries to accomplish a particular goal and is focused on enhancing a specific part of the user experience. The thing is that when you’re too focused on one single thing, you become blind to other evident things standing right in front of you.

That is why it’s crucial to make room in your UX design process for revealing the unexpected factors, the hidden data. User research correctly detects these things. Provide simple, open-ended tasks that only include a short explanation regarding their execution, such as: “Please, take a look around the app/game, like you usually do.”

Follow the way users find the solution to their problem on their own. Doing this may help you evaluate how people are using the product and what issues may appear during its operation. Better to do it during usability testing, so your UX team will still be in control.

Conclusion

People can’t pay attention to everything that surrounds them. Human attention is selective. That is why you can’t drive a car and read a book at the same time!

Usually, we filter out virtually everything to concentrate on the problem we want to solve or the goal we strive to accomplish. When we do this, we ignore most other things, even if they are looking us straight in the face.

When it comes to UX design, it’s essential to get rid of the noise and make sure that the end-user is provided with the most straightforward route possible to get the result they need. Instead of trying to defeat the lack of attention embedded in human genes, it’s best to guide the end-users mind to wherever it has already decided to go.

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