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The Visual Battle of Digital

These days, if you are not online - you obviously do not exist.

Yet as the new media has bloomed over the last decade, it became increasingly oversaturated with content, which is competing for our time and attention. Simultaneously, a study by Microsoft shows that the average online attention span has decreased from 12 to 8 seconds - shorter than of a goldfish! So, as we have more choice, we become more impatient in searching, entertaining and amusing ourselves. As a result, only 3% of online traffic leads to meaningful consumer actions.

And while we skim through the content, a number of visual and cognitive processes are engaged that evaluate the experience at hand. As such, studies show that judgement of one’s website or post acceptability and its aesthetic appeal is determined unconsciously, within 50ms of being exposed to an image. Next, our working memory is engaged. It holds information about the focus of our attention at hand, before it is transferred to our long-term or even short-term memory. Working memory is imperative for decision-making and judgement, but unfortunately could be easily disrupted. We can only concentrate at one task at hand. For example, if you are interrupted while counting your change, you are likely to start again, because you simply can’t remember where you left off. Similarly, the abundance of images, gifs, bright colours, animation, competing links and social sharing icons are drivers of rapid attention shifting and the reason how you started out simply checking the weather forecast, but end up reading about 10 secret mayo health benefits.

As a result, human attention turned into a new scarce resource, where the skill to manipulate and tap into cognitive mechanisms became among the key determinants of any online experience success. Digital design is hence paramount for captivating and engaging one’s attention, recall and working memory. The visual elements (or their lack) could work as a funnel that directs the gaze and streamlines fickle attention to a specific path. And because of the given digitisation trends and the cognitive restrains that our brains pose on us, the new design movements begun to emerge. You must have noticed the shift towards the more minimalistic layouts, simple navigation and the increase use of white space. Bauhaus, De Stijl and Constructivism movements just to name a few, all lay in foundation of modern digital minimalism. Fundamentally, these styles strip down any visual to its essentials, where “less is more”. 

In terms of cognitive processing of the content, minimalistic approaches “do not make you think” as Steve Krug brilliantly puts it. By reducing the visual complexity of a website or an app, where only the vital navigation and content elements linger, the user does not get frustrated or simply distracted by a different button. Hence, the likelihood that they will convert rises. As a result, the online usability is all about accommodating to ever-shortening attention spans by illuminating as many friction points as possible. Moreover, users simply prefer aesthetic high-quality content when browsing. Don’t be surprised to hear, that almost 40% of users will stop engaging with if they find your landing page unattractive. 

Subsequently, to explain the low conversion rates, it could be argued that most businesses fail in making their digital communications visually engaging and valuable, rather than failing in developing and launching them. This calls for a change in existing business models, where traditional marketing techniques should be enhanced with the understanding of the visual and technical usability.

At Rush, we are all about the most recent and effective approaches to digital. And so, if you want to learn more on the issue, I strongly recommend starting with "Do not make me think" to get the fundamental usability principles. And of course, there is a recent and brilliant "Digital Design Theory". Let's make web pretty!

More posts by Maryna Babych

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