Attention: A Key Component of UX and Cognitive Psychology

Samantha Rogers
Samantha Rogers

​Technology is cool. New features are cool.Shouldn’t your site show all these cool things off?

The short answer, unfortunately, is no. All those bells and whistles rapidly overwhelm users. They may be thinking: Wow, look at this magical 3D scrolling effect! Wow, look at this video background! Wow, check out this slideshow! Wow, look at those cool drawings!

And very quickly, users get lost in the hubbub of cool things and lose track of mission. Guess what? Your website’s goal is not to show off cool stuff. It’s to get and keep visitors’ attention to your product or service, and to convert customers. That’s why it’s so important to understand how attention comes into play when designing your website.

​How Psychology Aids Website Design

Recent advances in technology spotlight two increasingly important fields: user experience (UX), or how people interact with websites and apps; and cognitive psychology, a discipline that examines mental processes such as thinking and memory. 

User experience is an exemplary application of cognitive psychology, though it’s not always framed that way. In order for a user experience designer to work from a research driven, human focused standpoint, it’s necessary to understand key aspects of cognition.

Attention is one of the main tenets of human cognition. When you understand the principles of attention, you can greatly improve the way websites are designed for both the producer and the consumer.

Look Away From the Light 

Psychologists used to compare visual attention to a spotlight: people set their eyes on a certain visual of a certain size and that was that. Cognitive psychologists have made great strides in the field of attention. It turns out that attention is not as limited as scientists once imagined.

Contrary to what most people assume, attention is not finite. It does not have to be focused where the eyes are looking, and it can be focused in multiple spots. People take in stimuli even if they aren’t immediately focused on them. Specific things like movement divert attention from the initial focus. Attention is not a spotlight as psychologists once thought, but rather it is an ever-shifting amorphous scan.
When you take a more holistic approach to building a website, guide the user’s attention without inducing a headache. When too many exciting things distract the user, it prevents them from accomplishing their goals.

Order is Beauty

Strive for a visual hierarchy. Not everything should immediately try to grab the user’s attention; rather, the most important part of the website should be obvious. Some websites have begun to prioritize the user’s attention-- for example, Zivtech’s blog page phases out the header image by blurring it as the user scrolls down, shifting focus to the articles below.

Anyone can tell you that a web page looks cluttered, but a good designer should know how a cluttered web page impacts user attention. So if you want to boost your site metrics like traffic, session duration, and conversion, pay attention.

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