Website Design & Development

Fred Lebhart Posted by Fred Lebhart on February 15, 2011

Web Design: Keeping the Flow

Web Design: Keeping the Flow

"Inattentional Blindness" and Web Design

Several years ago a study was done at best web design practicesHarvard University whereby subjects watched a short video of people passing basketballs. Sounds simple enough right? The subjects were told to count the number of passes made between groups. Amidst the flying basketballs a woman in a full gorilla suit walks through the scene, stops, faces the camera, beats her chest, and then walks off. (Click here for the archive of Harvard's Clinical Study

You’d think that a woman in a gorilla suit, beating her chest, would be something memorable – right? It was, but for only about 50% of the subjects! One Half of the test subjects didn’t recall the presence of the gorilla when questioned - because it wasn’t expected – and their attention was focused elsewhere (counting the basketball passes). This situation is referred to as “inattentional blindness”.

Why does “inattentional blindness” happen? People have a limited capacity for attention, so in situations like the experiment at Harvard University, the subjects are essentially victims of information overload. They continue to focus on counting the basketball passes between groups and non-essential stimulus of the woman in the gorilla suit is more or less ignored.

best web design practicesCapturing Focus with Proper Web Design

So how is “inattentional blindness” relevant to web design? I think just about everyone has had an experience with an abrasive flash site, audio that shoots through your speakers unexpectedly, or dramatic and contrasting color schemes – These are the web design equivalent of a woman in a gorilla suit. An important message or call-to-action may be completely missed by visitors to your site if not properly drawn into the natural flow of the site.

When a visitor comes to a website they generally have an expectation of what they will find, which causes a natural funnel that directs their focus; where they find the navigation on the page, where they expect to find specific information or products. Tapping into this natural expectation and focus is the key to getting results from your web design.

Rx for “Inattentional Blindness”?    

How do you know if your site is causing customers "inattentional blindness”? The best advice really is to speak to an expert. Much the same as getting physical when you are perfectly healthy; it’s considered best practices to review your web design with a professional annually.

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