100 Things You Should Know About People: #96 — Past Experience And Expectations Determine Where People Look

Sign that says "Look Here"Where do people look first on a computer screen? Where do they look next? It depends partially on what they are doing and expecting.

Left to right? — If people read in languages that move from left to right, then they tend to look at the screen from left to right. If they read from right to left, it is the opposite.

Not the edges — People tend to ignore the edges of screens. Because people have gotten used to the idea that there are things on computer screens that are not as relevant to the task at hand, such as logos, blank space, and navigation bars,  they tend to move towards the center of the screen and avoid the edges. After the first look at a screen people then move in whatever is their normal reading pattern, in other words left to right/top to bottom in cultures that read that way.

Grabbing attention — If there is something that grabs attention, for example, a large photo (especially one with someone’s face), or movement (animated banner, video) somewhere else on the screen, then you can pull them away from their normal reading path and get them to look elsewhere, at least briefly.

Where to find certain tools and features — People have also gotten used to the location of certain items on a screen. For example, navigation bars are usually on the left or the top. Logos are at the top left. Search is expected at the top, either in the middle or towards the right. Help links or buttons are usually at the top right.

What do you think? Is it important to design with these conventions in mind? Or do you sometimes break out of the mold?


100 Things You Should Know About People: #97 -- People Filter Information
100 Things You Should Know About People: #95 -- People Decide Who And What Is Alive By The Eyes
Posted in perception, usability, visual design, web design Tagged with: ,
3 comments on “100 Things You Should Know About People: #96 — Past Experience And Expectations Determine Where People Look
  1. Martin says:

    Great post, Susan! I read that larger type promotes lighter scanning, while smaller type encourages the viewer to focus and read. Shorter paragraphs also have a higher percentage of engaged readers. You incorporate all three nicely!

  2. Eric says:

    To some extent, I think these conventions are important. People are fickle online and will gladly leave your website to find one that better meets their needs or is less frustrating. The low-risk approach is to provide a familiar layout with the elements in the usual place. On the other hand, you wrote that people trust design and content first, so there is always flexibility to try new things if the content is valuable and the design looks great. Do you think web designers are hurting themselves by following these conventions? Are we conditioning people to expect them and reject other approaches?

  3. Stephen Martin says:

    During my conversations with people, at some point, what I do for a living comes out and when that does some of those people will begin telling what they like and don’t like about web sites. Invariably, the main thing that people want to see in a web site is ease of use. They want to pop on, find what they’re looking for and move on.

    They don’t want to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how the site works and they don’t want to spend a lot of time sifting through tons of information to get to where they want to go.

    Paul Rand once said, “Simplicity is difficult to achieve, yet worth the effort.”

    I pulled that from an article he wrote decades ago and immediately it resonated with me. In my view, he was spot on.

    Long story short…stick with the conventions.


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