100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People (2011) is an essential guide for every designer. Combining research and practical examples, the book illustrates how important it is for designers to know, among many other things, how consumers make decisions and how memory is integral to good design.
Imagine you’re reading an article online, but an ad keeps flashing up on one side of the screen. Why is it so hard to ignore that flashing peripheral image and focus on reading? Well, there’s an anatomical reason for this.
In our humble attempts to navigate the world, we humans use our peripheral vision more than our central vision.
When we look directly at something, picking out details and focusing on particular features, we’re using our central vision. Our peripheral vision is what picks up everything around whatever we’re focusing on – all the objects, movements and colors that we’re not looking at directly but can still see.
Researchers at Kansas State University discovered that for the most part people use their peripheral vision to gather information about a scene. That’s why advertisers place ads at the sides of a web page; they’re guaranteed to receive attention.
And this tendency to use our peripheral vision makes perfect evolutionary sense. In order to stay alive, our ancestors needed to be hyperaware of their surroundings. And peripheral vision enabled them to stay alert while engaged with other tasks. Even when sharpening tools or preparing a meal, our ancestors could keep half an eye out for approaching threats like a hungry saber-toothed tiger.
Our central vision works differently. When looking directly at individual objects, humans find patterns. Envision four pairs of dots in a straight line with a small space between each pair. You’re anatomically predisposed to register the gaps and so perceive a pattern: four pairs rather than eight individual dots in a straight line.
Patterns make it easier to sort out all the new sensory information we’re constantly bombarded with. Even if there are no obvious patterns, your eyes and brain work in conjunction to create them. Basic shapes like rectangles and spheres are identified in everything you look at in order to make sense of what you’re observing.
Later, we’ll explore how this method of recognizing patterns is directly linked to the way you think and process information.