Put like things together to avoid online tunnel vision
Web visitors don’t see things that are right on the screen. Selective attention makes them overlook elements that are outside their focus of interest.
Or so says Jakob Nielsen, usability guru and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group.
Tunnel vision in action
In one study, Nielsen’s group tested the website of Westfield, a retail property developer in Sydney. Researchers asked participants to find the year Westfield entered the U.K. market.
The answer is actually quite prominent: “2000” appears in the upper left of the box in a larger font size than any of the other information.
But visitors didn’t see it. They finally found the year in the last line of the text on this story.
Why tunnel vision?
Website visitors tune out information all the time. Nielsen has “a pile of thousands” of examples from recent usability studies, including dozens on banner blindness alone.
“Selective attention is really a survival instinct,” Nielsen says.
“If people had to pay attention to all stimuli in the environment, they’d never get anything done. They’d also be more likely to overlook something important, such as a big-toothed predator sneaking up on them. … It’s only human: focus on a few things and ignore the rest.”
How can you overcome tunnel vision?
The solution to tunnel vision: Position like elements together.
Nielsen calls this the “closeness gestalt principle.”
“When buttons, drop-downs, checkboxes, or other actionable GUI elements are too far away from the objects they act on, people don’t see them,” he says. “Often, users don’t realize what they’re missing and simply assume the features aren’t available.”
Source: Jakob Nielsen, “Tunnel Vision and Selective Attention,” Alertbox, Aug. 27, 2012