“Lorem Ipsum” allergy, the human brain and some misconceivements

There’s something I have as a motto:
People are allergic to text.

If it’s a paragraph, big are the chances that it won’t be even noticed. It’s the equivalent of “Undistinct chatter” appearing in a closed captioned movie. It’s noise. It’s semi-useless. Some exceptions apply (and that’s why you are reading this post…)

Let’s do a little experiment:

Pretend you are interested in buying a new digital camera. You’ve heard about the new Panasonic Lumix FZ28 and you’d like to read a review.
I want you, reader, to visit cnet.com now, considering this scenario and motivation, to find the review.
Please do it! Seriously! Come back afterwards…

If you have tried to do so, think about what have you done, the elements you have interacted with in the interface.
Probably you have gone through one of these two ways:
- typed in the search box the name of the product and clicked on the result
- Clicked on “reviews” and then on a link to “Digital Cameras” to find your way to the product.

Now let’s see what you have NOT done. Go back to CNET’s home page.

- You have NOT seen all the other information that fills up 3 other scrolls and that cost a great deal of time and money to be published there.

Count the amount of text and images you have just ignored.

The point is: It is not the user’s mission in this world to read and consider everything you offer in a page. He will consider what is instantly perceived as being worthwhile, meaning VERY concise information that matches his interests or rings a bell.

Now comes the fun part. Why does it happen? Let me quote Harvard Psychologist Daniel Gilbert:

If we were designing a brain from scratch, we would probably design it so that it first identified objects in it’s environment and then figured out what to do. But human brains were not designed from scratch. Rather, their most critical functions were designed first, and their less critical functions were added on like bells and whistles as the millennia passed…” Running away from a threat, for example, is crucial to survival. That’s why the brain answers the question “What should I do?” before the “What is it?” question. That’s true, right? You just don’t wait to check exactly what is that scary thing coming in your way to decide if you need to run. “The moment we encounter an object, our brains instantly analyze just a few of it’s key features and then use the absence or presence of it’s key features to make one very fast and very simple decision: Is this object an important thing to which I ought to respond right now?

And that’s why we don’t read. A paragraph becomes instantly recognized as “lorem ipsum block”. It will only be read if it’s first considered worth of attention. This judgement is based on few key caracteristics: concise and straight-forward information.

That’s why the study of Gestalt and Cognitive Psychology is a key factor in a visual designer’s background.

27 08.2008 • •

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