Creating User Experiences for Short Attention Spans

Creating User Experiences for Short Attention Spans
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By Andrew Kucheriavy

Today, website users are bombarded with all sorts of content and information, from cat videos to the latest news scandal. With all of this competition, it can be difficult to cut through the clutter and get your marketing messages across to your target audience. Indeed, generating and holding user attention online is one of the biggest challenges marketers face. Learning how to focus user attention on the right information is therefore critical to the success of your marketing initiatives. In this article, I’ll share six of the most effective tactics for capturing and holding your users’ attention.

Show Users Valuable Information

Users have limited attention, and they won’t use it on just anything. You need to show them information they’ll find valuable. This will increase their willingness to spend time and attention on your content. Use these tactics to highlight important points:

  • Use human faces to draw attention. This is especially effective when that face is looking at them.
  • Add bright colors and vivid photos will naturally attract the user’s focus. To determine whether important elements will stand out, squint your eyes while looking at a page and see what you notice.
  • Whenever possible, call out the user by name in relevant content.
  • Include animations, especially in the user’s peripheral vision, to draw attention to high-value content.

Your users will naturally scan any page they visit to search for the information they’re interested in. Highlighting the most important points will make your user experience more enjoyable since users will be able to find what they need quickly.

Add Novelty to Keep Users Engaged

Our brain gives priority to learning the unknown. When the user sees that an experience is repetitive, their brain will filter it out. To hold users’ attention, add novelty. To make blog posts more interesting, break them up with images, statistics and quotes. This is an effective way to summarize key points, but it also adds novelty.

Using unique designs for your print materials, infographics and website will keep the user engaged for much longer than a repetitive experience would.

Exploit Human Instincts

As Susan Weinschenk notes in her book Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click?, anything related to food, sex or danger tends to override our logical thought process. That’s because the oldest part of our brain (the reptilian brain) is focused on our survival. To help us survive, it makes us pay attention to the above.

Consider using visuals of food, members of the opposite sex or danger if it makes sense for your market. To use these techniques to your advantage, you need to know your audience. Images of attractive men or women may work well for some industries, but in more formal ones they could hurt your reputation. If you aren’t sure how your audience will react, consider doing user testing to get your customers’ genuine reactions.

Evoke Emotions With Visuals and Stories

When a user feels an emotional connection with your content, they’ll be more willing to learn and explore. Creating positive emotions brings back good memories and builds that emotional connection. Using images or videos with the right people, expressions and colors are all part of framing your content.

According to one study, users prefer messages that are framed using positive emotions. Stories are another powerful ally for framing your content in a positive way. The best user experiences combine writing with photos, videos and audio to tell a single narrative. This makes users feel an emotional connection. When telling your brand’s story, ask yourself: How can I present a positive, hopeful solution to my users’ problems?

Highlight Salient Cues

Most people see bicycles every day. But, if you took out a piece of paper and tried to draw a bike, could you do it accurately? When Gianluci Gimini asked 370 people to draw a bike, all the drawings had frames, pedals and tires. But only 25 percent of them were accurate bicycles. That’s because most people only see the salient cues (things that matter to them) and ignore the small stuff.

As a marketer, you need to understand what matters your audience. User interviews and buyer personas can help you uncover salient cues, such as key terminology, pain points and relatable messaging. Using these signals shows users that you’re empathetic to their needs and focuses the user experience on them. Using visual cues such as color, logos and brand names in conjunction with the right messaging is another way to reinforce your brand’s value to customers.

Use Contrast to Guide Users

The oldest part of our brain isn’t just interested in food, sex and danger. As Susan M. Weinschenk notes in her book 100 Things Every Designer Should Know about People, it also pays close attention to contrasts and opposites. When it sees contrast, it wants to understand what caused the different outcomes so that it can avoid the negative ones.

Showing benefits by using contrast is an effective attention-grabber and teaching tool. You might contrast before/after, fast/slow, do/don’t or with/without. This appeals to a more instinctual part of the brain that helps users make decisions quickly. It grabs their attention and makes them want to learn more.

Quality Content Always Wins

In the end, users pay the most attention to relevant content. Use these techniques to help users find the content they’re interested in. As you apply these tactics, continually test them. They work in theory, but your audience and offer may make some of them ineffective. Refine your approach until you find the right balance. Once you show your users quality content, their attention span becomes limitless.


Andrew Kucheriavy is the founder and CEO of Intechnic, a leading web design agency with locations and clientele in North America, Europe and Australia.

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