Good design helps memorizing

Digital creativity blog by Flow Bohl, 27.9.2010

On the way to work we rush along some 6.500 adverts and hardly remember any of them. Hardly means we do remember some of them, or at least elements of some of them. These elements are central to visual attention and memory. They are central to successful communication - not only advertising.

We are generally more receptive to information that confirms our interests and believes. Someone who drives Nissan will be more likely to pay attention to a Nissan ad than someone who drives BMW. In some rare cases however, well crafted ads achieve to break through, they are 'recalled' above average. This recall is hard to measure but a decisive factor for advertisement success.

Visual attention

Research recently proved that fast-forwarded TV advertisements can negatively affect brand-attitude, behavioural intent and even actual choice. Do we need research that proves the blatantly obvious? Do we not know that brand information and visual attention in our over-saturated advertising landscape is steadily declining? Most advertisers and marketers do.

Visual attention is measured through gaze duration. In fast-paced urban environments and cluttered online spaces it is consequently low which leads to low advertisement recall.

Setting priorities

The report also revealed that when ads are viewed in fast-forward mode, attention concentrates in the central area of the screen. Eyes tend to be guided to areas which are ecologically likely to be most informative. Often we scan rather than 'read' ads, while passing them on an elevator, on the motorway or scrolling down on a web page, similar to the fast-forward mode on TV. Online, visitors subconsciously disregard most elements on a page and scan quickly for information that's most relevant for them.

Good design prioritizes content accordingly. In information architecture the most important elements are organized at places of high visibility. But that's not all. Different channels require different solutions. Images enhance learning and retention of material better than words. It requires less attention to communicate through pictures than through words (i.e. symbols on airports). Online display ads and billboards along highways have a low attention span, big imagery with few words achieve the most.

Nevertheless, people do read long copy! When spending more time somewhere like waiting for a train or reading a newspaper, longer copy in ads can be more persuasive. Here, simple or no imagery maximize the impact of the message and will have better chances of being remembered.

Good design helps memorizing

What designers can do

Good design therefore isn't just about visual appeal but foremost about achieving its commercial objectives. In advertising these are normally informing, persuading or reminding.

This is insightful not only for designers aiming at increasing usability of interfaces but also for guiding visual attention in commercial environments. And yet these crucial findings seem to be neglected frequently. User experience managers, art directors, and information architects can significantly improve their work by keeping in mind visual attention.

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