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100 More Things #111: PEOPLE DON’T PAY ATTENTION



In the previous section we covered System 1 and System 2 thinking. Since most people are in System 1 thinking most of the time, this means that most people are actually not paying that much attention to what is going on around them most of the time.

When we design a product we are often sitting at a desk, thinking deeply about the design. Or we might be in a meeting collaborating with our colleagues about the design. We are paying attention to what we are doing. We are (hopefully), deliberately designing the particular page, screen, interface, and interaction. We are in System 2 mode while we are designing.

But what we often fail to realize is that our users might not be in System 2 mode when they are using the product. They are most likely in System 1 mode. They aren’t paying attention all that much. They will miss things on the screen, they will make errors, they will not be thinking all that hard. You have to assume System 1 thinking and you have to plan for that.


  • People are mainly in System 1 mode which means they are not thinking that much, even when they are using the product you’ve designed.
  • Test out your designs with real users in real environments to see what it is like for people to use them when they are not really paying attention, since that is likely what will happen in real life.


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