Book Review of Visual Language for Designers

Here is a Quick Review of a new book, Visual Language for Designers by Connie Malamed. First the video and then the text summary:

When I first looked at this book I said “Wow!”. It’s a large book, hardcover, with thick paper and beautiful illustrations, as it should be, since it’s a book on visual design. But looking deeper, the reason that I like this book so much is that it covers the topic of visual design from a psychologist’s point of view, and let’s face it, I’m a pscyhologist and I see everything from a psychologist’s point of view! Continue reading “Book Review of Visual Language for Designers”

10 Best Posts of 2009

It’s that time of year — so here is my list of the 10 best posts from my blog in 2009. I chose the 10 that I believe have had the greatest impact/most thought provoking/most interest from my readers.

#1: Dopamine Makes You Addicted to Seeking Information — I thought this was an interesting post when I wrote it, but it surprised me how quickly it took off virally; more than any other post I’ve written!

#2: Eyetracking — 7 Traps to Avoid — Another surprise to me how popular this post was.

#3: 7 Steps to Successful Web Site Redesign — I think Jacek Utko has an important view of the world.

#4: Your Attention is Riveted By Pictures of People — If people knew how important this is I think they’d change the pictures they put at their web site.

#5: Web Site User Experience Anatomy — Not one of my posts, but a guest post by Craig Tomlin, and an interesting way to think about web sites. Continue reading “10 Best Posts of 2009”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #20 — Your Attention Is Riveted By Pictures Of People

Picture of a baby looking right at the camera Second only to movement (animation, video), pictures of a human face capture attention in any medium, including websites. Pictures of a human face not only capture attention, but keep the attention on that part of the screen even when the picture goes away.

We start young — With some creative experiments it has been proven that babies as young as 4 months old will look at pictures of other people more than pictures of other objects or of animals. And this preference for faces continues throughout the life span. It seems to be part of our brain wiring.

The eyes have it — Research using eye tracking shows that when you show people a picture of the face of a person, their attention goes mostly to the eyes. If you want to capture someone’s attention at a website, showing a picture of a person who is looking right into the camera captures the most attention. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #20 — Your Attention Is Riveted By Pictures Of People”

7 Steps to Successful Web Site Redesign

Jacek Utko
Jacek Utko

Jacek Utko is a newspaper designer. He has designed/redesigned many newspapers in Central and Eastern Europe and won world awards. He believes strongly in “giving power to the designers” and that designers should embed their personal vision into the work they do, even at the expense of being a team player.

Utko’s words and work are compelling, and I especially like his 7 Steps to Success. He is talking about 7 steps to success if you are redesigning a newspaper, but when I first read the 7 steps I thought they were a good jumping off point on 7 Steps to Successful Web Site Design. So I’ve taken his 7 steps and modified them to fit the design of websites:

7 Steps To Successful Web Site Design or Redesign (concepts borrowed from Jacek Utko and modified)

1. Web Site Strategy: What is the goal? Where and how can you reach new visitors to your website? Pick one measure of success (sales, conversions registrations), pick your most important measure and ask: “How can we increase that one measure of success?”

2. Content: What content do you have that will attract new visitors and advertisers. What content should you change or add to reach and serve them better? Continue reading “7 Steps to Successful Web Site Redesign”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #14 — Reading Text Online Is Not Fun

Page Full of Text
Page Full of Text

It’s the holiday season right now in the USA which means that people are talking about what they want as a gift. I would like a Kindle or one of the new Barnes and Noble competitors to the Kindle. Since we are being frugal in our household this year I don’t think I’m going to get one (and I haven’t read the reviews yet to see whether I want the Kindle or the new B&N competitor).

Is a Kindle the same as text online? — It might seem contradictory, then, for me to say I want a Kindle and then write a post about the idea that reading text online is not fun. But actually I am not talking about the same thing at all. I’ve tried a Kindle, and the liquid ink technology is different than LCD displays on a laptop or a desktop monitor. Reading text on a computer screen is admittedly better than it was years ago. I go back to the dreaded “green screen” days, and I can say with certainty that reading text on my MacBook Pro is a lot better than reading text on the green (or amber — how many of you remember amber?) and black screens from yester year. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #14 — Reading Text Online Is Not Fun”

100 Things You Should Know about People: #5 — You Make Most of Your Decisions Unconsciously

You are thinking of buying a TV. You do some research on what TV to buy and then you go online to purchase one. What factors are involved in this decision making process?

It’s not what you think — I cover this topic in my book Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? You like to think that when you make a decision you have carefully and logically weighed all the relevant factors. In the case of the TV, you have considered the size of TV that works best in your room, the brand that you have read is the most reliable, the competitive price, whether you should get blu-ray, etc etc. But the research on decision-making, especially the recent research, shows that although you want to think that your decision-making is a conscious, deliberate process, it’s not. Most decisions are made through unconscious mental processing.

Unconscious decision-making includes factors such as:

What are most other people buying (social validation): “I see that a particular TV got high ratings and reviews at the website”

What will make me stay consistent in my persona (commitment): “I’m the kind of person that always has the latest thing, the newest technology.”

Do I have any obligations or social debts that I can pay off with this purchase (reciprocity): “My brother has had me over to his house all year to watch the games, I think it’s time we had them over to our place to watch”

and on and on.

Don’t Confuse Unconscious with Irrational or Bad. I take exception with Dan Ariely and his book, Predictably Irrational. Most of our mental processing is unconscious, and most of our decision-making is unconscious, but that doesn’t mean it’s faulty, irrational or bad. We are faced with an overwhelming amount of data (11,000,000 pieces of data come into the brain every second!) and our conscious minds can’t process all of that. Our unconscious has evolved to process most of the data and to make decisions for us according to guidelines and rules of thumb that are in our best interest most of the time. This is the genesis of “trusting your gut”, and most of the time it works!

So What To Do? — The next step is to think about what this means for people who design things like websites, where you are providing information and/or engaging customers to make a decision. This is, of course, the topic of my book, but let’s hear from you. If we know that people are making decisions unconsciously, rather than consciously, what are some strategies we should employ at the website to encourage them to engage?

And for those of you who like to read, great books on this topic are:

How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer — The BEST book on the topic of decision-making in general.

Strangers to Ourselves: The adaptive unconscious by Timothy Wilson — A little bit more academic, but still a great book.

The Paradox of Choice by Barry Schwartz

and of course

Neuro Web Design: What makes them click?

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100 Things You Should Know about People: #4 — You Imagine Objects From Above and Tilted (The "Canonical Perspective")

Why you should believe the research in this blog post even though it’s from 1981 — Whenever I talk about “old” research some people start right away to dismiss it. It’s easy to think that research done in the 1990s or 1980s, or heavens! the 1970s! couldn’t hold any interest for us now. I heartily disagree. If the research is sound and it’s about people, then the chances are high that it still has relevance. Certainly if you are talking about research from the 1980s showing that it is hard to read text on a computer screen, then more recent data is important —  the quality of computer monitors has changed so dramatically from the 1980s till now (believe me on this one, as I was around to see the screens of the 1980s. I am aware that many of you reading this blog have only seen a screen from the 80s in the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, or maybe you saw it in an old black and white movie (joke), or, as my daughter likes to say to me, “that must have been when you were younger and the dinosaurs roamed).

Have an Open Mind — So the purpose of the above long preamble to ask you to have an open mind about the following research that was done and written up in a book from 1981.

Draw a Coffee Cup — If you ask someone to draw a picture of a coffee cup, chances are they will draw something that looks like this:

Everyone Drew A Similar Picture — In fact, a researcher named Palmer went all around the world and asked people to draw a coffee cup and the pictures above were what people drew. Notice the perspective of the cups. A few of them are “straight on”, but most are drawn from a perspective as if you are slightly above the cup looking down, and offset a little to the right or left. This has been dubbed the “canonical perspective”.

Why Not This? — No one he studied drew this:

which is what you would see if you were looking at a coffee cup from way above and looking down. Of course not, you say, but…. why not? And if you are going to say that the first perspective is the one that we actually see most of the time, when we look at a coffee cup… that it is the angle we are used to seeing the cup on our kitchen tables, I will tell you that this research has been done on many objects. For example, people were shown pictures of horses from various angles and perspectives and they most quickly recognized it as a horse when it was from this same canonical perspective. Yet I am fairly sure that most of us have not looked at horses from above most of the time. And the research was done with people recognizing a very small dog or cat. The canonical perspective still won out, even though when we see cats or very small dogs we are mainly looking at them from high above, not just slightly above. In fact the research shows that when we imagine an object we imagine it from this canonical perspective.
So, Why Care? — It seems to be a universal trait that we think about, remember, imagine and recognize objects from this canonical perspective. Why care? Well, if you want to use icons at your web site or in your web or software application that people will recognize, then you might want to use this perspective. This is probably not so critical if you are using a well known logo, for example, the logo for itunes or Firefox, but becomes important if the icon is not as familiar, such as recognizing below that one of the logos is of a truck, or a photo printer.

What Do You Think? — Should we continue to use the canonical perspective?
And for those of you who like to read research:
Palmer, S. E., Rosch, E., and Chase, P. (1981). “Canonical Perspective and the Perception of Objects.” In Long, J., and Baddeley, A.  (Eds.), Attention and performance IX, Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

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100 Things You Should Know about People: #2 — You READ FASTER With a longer Line Length But PREFER Shorter

Have you ever had to decide how wide a column of text you should use on a screen? Should you use a wide column with 100 characters per line? or a short column with 50 characters per line?

It turns out that the answer depends on whether you want people to read faster or whether you want them to like the page!

Research (see reference below) demonstrates that 100 characters per line is the optimal length for on-screen reading speed; but it’s not what people prefer. People read faster with longer line lengths (100 characters per line), but they prefer a short or medium line length (45 to 72 characters per line). In the example above from the New York Times Reader, the line length averages 39 characters per line.

The research also shows that people can read one single wide column faster than multiple columns, but they prefer multiple columns (like the New York Times Reader above).

So if you ask people which they prefer they will say multiple columns with short line lengths. Interestingly, if you ask them which they read faster, they will insist it is also the multiple columns with short line lengths, even though the data shows otherwise.

It’s a quandary: Do you give people what they prefer or go against their own preference and intuition, knowing that they will read faster if you use a longer line length and one column?

What would you do?

Dyson, M.C. (2004). “How Physical Text Layout Affects Reading from Screen.” Behavior & Information Technology, 23(6), pp. 377-393.

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Sell with Stories

It’s all about stories. Finca is a micro loan company. You give them some money and they loan it to people around the world who are trying to improve their lives. It’s a great organization doing vital work. Their website has good photos, but they could be even more effective if they would focus focus focus… Here’s a snapshot of their home page. There is a block at the top that cycles photos from people and small businesses that they loan to, and this photo block is great. However, they could use it even more… the one liner they have under the photo should start to tell a story about the people in the photo. When you click on the photo it should take you to a page where you get to see (with more photos) and read the story of the people in that photo (it takes you instead to their goal of a 100,000 village banks).

On their home page they also have a picture of some people at an event to open a UK branch… this is not a compelling photo, and it distracts from the photos above which are the real people who are recipients of the micro loan. And lastly, the yellow column on the right is also a distractor… small text, lots of text, small images… it draws attention away from the main STORY which should be the photos of the people.

In Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I write about how and why stories are so powerful. Finca’s home page would be more compelling if they would focus the home page on telling stories of the people that are helped by donating micro loan money, and if you could click on the photos to get the full story. The home page would be improved if they made it simpler, taking off other information from the home page… let it focus on story.

Do you have a favorite site ? or a site that you think is not persuasive enough? Send me the URL and I’ll review it here at the blog.

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