The surprising news that Mark Carney is to become the new Governor of the Bank of England will have shocked many people in the City as well as the dozens of pundits who confidently predicted that the current Deputy Governor, Paul Tucker would get the job. Indeed, bookmakers will be counting their losses this morning and there are red faces throughout newsrooms as financial journalists and city watchers have to apologise for their failed prediction. Whilst every “expert” was facing the City of London and seeing the “obvious” Paul Tucker, the Chancellor was facing in the opposite direction towards Canada.
Now, of course, the newspapers are full of praise for the appointment saying it is an inspired choice. Some are even brave enough to apologise for their “mistake”. However, it is easily explained. When you look for the answer to a solution in one place you tend to ignore the other possible sources. This is partly a psychological effect known as “inattentional blindness” – we do not see things which are obvious because we do not pay attention to them. No-one was really paying attention to what was going on in Canada and so they missed the obvious candidate for the job.
Recent research shows that such lack of attention means we do not even remember where essential items are, such as the nearest fire extinguisher. In spite of the fact that people had walked passed the nearest fire extinguisher in their office building thousands of times, they were mostly unable to recall where it was.
Importantly, however, they were able to find the fire extinguisher quickly when asked, which shows when they paid attention to something they knew exactly where to find it.
Such issues are important online. Few people will actually pay attention to where your “search box” is – they will have inattentional blindness to it; it will be there on your page, but few people will know where it is or even know if you have a search box. But ask them to find it and they will be able to spot it – assuming, like the fire extinguisher it has the vivid features we associate with search. Hence the word “search” becomes essential, instead of fancy word such as “find things” or trying to be clever by using an arrow instead of the word. That’s rather like painting the fire extinguisher yellow instead of red – people would not be able to spot it.
Equally, if people are asked to find your email address they’ll expect a link, rather than a fancy word picture or some device supposedly designed to eliminate spam. And similarly, if your users are wondering if you have a blog, they’ll expect to see a link entitled “blog” rather than wording supposedly deemed to be more attractive such as “news” or “updates”.
In other words, most people will not pay attention to the vast majority of what you offer them on your website. But when they want to find a specific item – such as a search box, an email link or a blog – they will focus on features they expect. If you don’t provide them, you are, in effect, painting the fire extinguisher in the wrong colour. And that’s much the same as financial journalists concentrating on the features of a new Governor of the Bank of England which the Chancellor was not considering.