Lady Gaga has made history and helped us understand a bit more about web design psychology; she has become the first celebrity to have more than 10m followers on Twitter. Whoopee! Of course that means that over 96% of the Twitter world ignore her. And as for the rest of the world? Well, that means 99.999% of them do not follow her. Perhaps it is not such a big achievement after all. Of course if you are madly into Lady Gaga you will follow her and you will see the historic 10m as important. If you can’t stand this woman from New York you will probably have filtered out the news – skipped past it as you turned the pages or scrolled down beyond the headlines.
We all filter out what we don’t want to look at, what we are not interested in – but we “filter in” the material we do want to see. This has implications for web design – people will often look at a web page for only fractions of a second. Web design psychology is all about ensuring that your visitors see what they really want to see – even if you have other material in their field of vision.
Two new pieces of research throw an important light onto the subject. Researchers at the University of Washington have just published a study on the psychological phenomena of blocking and attenuation. Essentially, when we look at something we either block out material from our attention, or we attenuate – heighten its value to our brain. The researchers found that we decide whether to block or to attenuate based upon whether we have previously decided to look for something specific, or if we are just monitoring something we see.
In other words, if we already have a specific purpose in mind, we block out everything we don’t want from our attention, even though it may be in our field of vision. However, if we know roughly what we want, but are just considering it, that’s when we attend to everything but attenuate the material we are most keen on.
From a web design psychology point of view this research is interesting because it shows that you could design pages which people block out material that could actually be of interest to them – such as advertising, or downloadable items. It means if you have people who already know exactly what they want from your web pages, they will block out all that additional material you might want to offer them. On the other hand, if the visitors are merely browsing, they will heighten their attention of the material they might want, but will not block out the alternative materials. That suggest the advertising is most likely to be seen by people with the least specific purpose in mind – not what you want really.
Hope for web designers
Another piece of research, from Harvard Medical School, however provides some hope for web design. This study shows that people can assess information and determine what categories of material are available within just a few milliseconds. But, importantly, from a web design psychology point of view, the psychologists found that the extent to which people can assess the information in front of them depends upon the task they were given in advance. In other words, if people know exactly what they want from a specific website they are likely to be able see it amongst any other peripheral content.
What this suggests is that web designers need to know the exact purpose for a visitor. What is their prime interest and their single reason for visiting a particular page? If you know that you can make sure people see it. If they are browsers, they will enhance their attention, looking for the specific item on the page. And, the Harvard study suggests they will see it even if there is other material present. But for web designers, the issue remains how do you design for those people who are not browsing, who are single-minded in their desire for what a page should deliver to them? You can put in all that peripheral stuff, but they will not see it.
Either way, it means if you are paying attention to the psychology of web design, you need to make it pretty clear the single purpose of each individual page on your website. That, of course, makes sense. These new pieces of research confirm that if you are clear, people will see it – but some people (the more focused) will ignore everything else you have to offer. So why offer it?
In a sense, the answer is provided by Lady Gaga; she probably does not care a jot that most people do not follow her on Twitter. Instead, she focuses on those that do. In designing your web pages, focus on exactly what your customers want – deliver just that, make it obvious and forget all the periphery because people are either filtering it out or not even seeing it in the first place.
- Web Design Evolution: Two Decades of Innovation [INFOGRAPHIC] (mashable.com)
- 10 Key Considerations for Your Mobile Web Design Strategy (mashable.com)
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+