Psychological Web Design – Central vs. Peripheral Vision

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100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People – Book Report

Central vs. Peripheral Vision

Ever wonder why blinking banner ads are so unbelievably distracting? Turns out, it’s related to our evolutionary drive to detect danger (i.e. lions, tigers, and bears – oh my).
We have 2 basic types of vision – central and peripheral. As you might have guessed, central vision refers to what your eyes are focusing on, and peripheral vision encompasses the remainder of your visual field. In 100 Things, Weinschenk explains that central vision is understandably crucial for focusing on the details and core content on a page, but peripheral vision plays a much larger role than previously thought in giving the viewer an immediate ‘gist’ of what they’re looking at.
The evolutionary argument is that early humans needed the ability to focus on a task (i.e. sharpening a spear) while using their peripheral vision to keep an eye out for danger and monitor their surroundings. In other words, we’ve been hardwired to subconsciously notice context clues all around us. Even though it’s usually a blinking ad for a diet pill – we can’t help but pay attention to movement in our peripherals, just in case it’s a lion. (how distracting is this lion??)

Why It Matters

Full-width and full-screen imagery and video backgrounds are extremely popular right now, and this lesson about giving the gist without distracting will help you do it right.
In case you haven’t already noticed, we’re firm advocates of large imagery. When using large images and videos, remember that the goal is to intentionally tell the viewers’ peripheral vision what the gist of the page is about, without distracting their central vision. Make sure any text on top of the image/video is clearly legible, and definitely don’t use any videos with objects blinking or flying across the screen.
With a nickname like “the brain lady”, Susan M. Weinschenk had a lot of pressure on her. Being self-taught in all things web and creative design, I’ve spent a good deal of time reading books, blogs, and research articles on the topic of UI/UX, and I found myself increasingly critical of the authors. Most of what I’ve found has recycled the same tips and tricks over and over again and puts the focus on ‘this is what’s popular right now’, but what I really wanted to learn was why certain UI/UX tactics become popular or prove more effective than others. With “100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People”, I found exactly what I was looking for. Susan Weinschenk, a Ph.D. psychologist who has spent 30 years applying psychology to the design of technology, brilliantly breaks down 100 user experience theories and clearly identifies not just what you should do, but why you should do it. I’ve read and re-read this book over and over (and made it required reading for every Shocking Creations employee), and after finding myself reciting it’s lessons to clients on a daily basis – I decided to begin a multi-series blog ‘book report’. We’ve identified our favorite chapters from the book and have done our best to summarize them and explain how they apply to our friends, partners, and clients. We want to stress that we did not come up with the information or advice in these blog posts; they are merely summaries of what Susan Weinschenk has outlined in her book. We highly recommend purchasing the book and reading it cover to cover repeatedly.
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