Interaction design is two things.

  1. managing attention
  2. persuasion

Once you come to the realization/acceptance that no one – not even the interested, motivated, and committed — has the kind of focused attention available for your thing that you assume they have, you will have a much better chance of capturing and sustaining any of it at all.

The more you assume of your audience’s attention, the less of it you’ll get. The more distracted you assume your audience is, the better you’ll be at focusing your message to them.

Ask as few actions of your audience as possible, and provide as little information to support those actions as possible. Everything else that you could put on your screen is a distraction.

It’s as simple (and ruthless) as that.

Then comes the persuasion.

There is the persuasion you probably think most about, which is macro-persuasion. This is using information and design to lead someone to a conclusion or action.

But the more important — and difficult — variety of persuasion that you should be thinking much more about is micro-persuasion. This is using information and design to capture and increase the focus of a person’s attention.

Remember: the average person is capable of reading 250 words per minute. But the average person chooses not to. In fact, the average person will engage in definitive heuristic processing — using visual cues to assess the relevance, quality, and trustworthiness of information — within 1-3 seconds of first looking at your screen or page. It’s in that very short time that they will ask and answer three simple questions:

  1. What is this?
  2. Is it relevant to me?
  3. What should I do next?

Because heuristic processing is an emotional and sensory experience, visual language will do the majority of the work of informing the answers to these three questions.

That means that every visual choice you make — layout, colors, typography, images — must be focused on getting a distracted, rushed, and emotionally-driven brain through their initial sub-conscious vetting and into the kind of systematic processing — detailed and focused review — you assume they’ll do initially.

If you’re interested in this subject, I wrote an article last spring about why good design requires persuasion. It goes into more detail on the four main elements of persuasion and the two kinds of processing — heuristic and systematic — that I mentioned today.

Written by Christopher Butler on November 29, 2023,   In Log

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