Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 21 of 31

This lesson is about one, simple idea that most people think about in the wrong way. However, that one idea can effect everything in your approach to design. To fix that, we need to understand:



(Just starting the User Psych Crash Course? Start here.)


Your brain can only consciously do one thing at a time. So it has to focus. That focus moves from one thing to another, all day long.

That’s called attention.

Ironically, most designers forget about attention. It seems so simple, yet we constantly overlook it.


In my experience, people treat attention like a ticking time bomb. They do as much as possible, hoping that something will create interest, before time runs out.

That’s not how attention works.

Attention is like a spotlight.

It points at a specific thing. If you want to point it at something else, you have to stop pointing it at the first thing.

As you move the spotlight, anything outside of the light will go unnoticed. The other columns of content. The banners. The other banners. And the custom banners that you call something else internally so it doesn’t feel like you’re advertising to your own users (still banners!).

If you want people to notice something, it either has to be close to the spotlight, or obvious in the dark.

“Whoa.” — Ted “Theodore” Logan


A few ways to get the attention of users:

Motion is the highest-ranking part of your visual system, so when something moves, your attention is drawn to it by reflex.

Surprise — which is not the same thing as shock & awe — is the principle behind pattern breaking. When something doesn’t fit, we notice.

Big text usually indicates the “main information” in the design, so our eyes tend to go there first.

Sound can be one of the most annoying things on the internet, but it does get your attention. When used more elegantly, it works well.

Contrast & Color can make parts of your design jump out from your peripheral vision. Users will notice those parts without looking directly at them.


What are you sacrificing to get attention?

Every time you add an extra message or pull someone’s attention with motion or sound, you are also stealing their attention from everything else.

“Paying” attention really does have a “cost”. An opportunity cost.

It might be fun when people comment on that all-singing, all-dancing UI thing somebody worked so hard on, but if that causes them to miss the Buy Button, it’s a bad design choice.

If a UX designer wants to design everything a user can experience, they miss the point of attention.

UX isn’t about creating a perfect world. It’s about eliminating everything that competes with our goals and user goals.

Good UX is reductive, not expansive.

If God was a UX designer, we would each be sitting in a small, dark, sound-proof room, in a comfortable chair, on a device that could only display his website or app.

Who knows; maybe we are.

“Whoa.” — Bill S. Preston, Esq.


Tomorrow we will look at what happens in a user’s mind after they use your design: Memory