Cognitive Psychology for Designers: Visual Search – Feature Integration Theory

How do we find what we are looking for? And how do we do it?

Visual search deals with the problem of how we find what we are looking for (relevant things) in a world full of things that might also be irrelevant to us.

Visual search is necessary for our daily life. Imagine we have to process all the information in our visual field at once. It is simply not possible because of our limited cognitive capacity. Visual search is also very important for design. 

See this example:

The new Google App icons are tough to scan for. Maps is so hard for me to locate. Anyone else experiencing this? pic.twitter.com/VWg9qeoG6E

— Erika Hall (@mulegirl) October 27, 2020
„Cognitive Psychology for Designers: Visual Search – Feature Integration Theory“ weiterlesen

Permanent usage of pop-ups and interruptions hurt your orgas credibility

Just stumbled again upon this quote:

„Our studies showed that ads that pop up in new browser windows hurt a site’s credibility. This makes sense; people usually go to Web sites with goals in mind, and they expect the site to help them accomplish those goals. Pop-up ads are a distraction and a clear sign the site is not designed to help users as much as possible. Pop-up ads make people feel used, perhaps even betrayed.“

(Brian J. Fogg. 2003 Persuasive technology: using computers to change what we think and do)

Even though the quote mentions specifically „ads“, this is also true for newsletter subscription reminders (which may be also „ads“ in peoples perception) and other stuff which is constantly popping up and therefore interrupts people.

Suppose you go into a shop and just want to look around with no intention to buy something. What impression does it make if the store owner stands behind you, constantly asking if you want to come more often, maybe tomorrow, and despite the fact that you say no, she keeps coming back, asking again and again. This is what the pop up window does, literally. Will you ever step into this store again? And will you perhaps tell your friends about this experience and tell them how crazy they are and tell them not to go there?

And: Do you want to be this store owner?

Designing for credibility and Stanford Website credibility guidelines

Credibility is a very important factor in both: Human to human Interaction, but also when we interact with computers/technology. Unfortunately, the factor is often neglected in the latter.

As credibility is attributed to others, it is a subjectively perceived and therefore experienced quality. Nevertheless, it is not completely random and based on subjective perceptions – most people of a society agree on what is perceived as credible or not. There are key dimensions such as trustworthiness and competence based on perceived cues which play a role when it comes to an evaluation of the perceived credibility – of course depending on culture and socialization.

Websites/Apps also do good when perceived as credible. Credibility can refer to several things like the content, the messages sent, the tone of voice, the behavior of the site/app, the visual design etc. Users will make (mostly unconscious) judgements about the company’s/organizations credibility based on these factors. If a website is perceived as credible, this can increase the decision to trust your company/organization over another.

For a starting point how to design credible websites, you can use the Stanford Credibility Guidelines (see image above) which are based on solid research.

Friend or foe? Social presence is an important factor to consider in Interaction /UX Design

Ever yelled at your computer? Congrats! You’re in good company applying social responses to inanimate things. We as humans are wired to be social creatures. And even digital products may trigger social responses and you might not even be aware of it.

Often, computing technology conveys some sort of social presence. Resulting to that fact people do respond to this technology often as though the technology item is a social entity like eg another human (For reference on that see e.g Reeves, B. and Nass, C. ;1996. The Media Equation: How People Treat Computers, Television, and New Media Like Real People and Places, Stanford University)

Here are a few examples how social presence is conveyed (among other things):

Fig 01: Keepon, a social robot/beatbot for autistic children

Keepon is a computing technology in form of a robot. It conveys social presence for us humans through (obvious) physical cues like a face. It has eyes and also some physical skills like it starts dancing/moving and making funny noises when it listens to music or when you interact with it.

Fig 02: Siri, a voice based digital assistant

Also, voice based digital assistants like Siri convey – in this case despite their very futuristic and techy appearance – social presence through language cues but also through social roles like gender which we implicitly perceive. We will imply implicit assumptions and personality behind it – despite we are knowing it is a machine.

Fig 03: Unhelpful error message found in moodle a while ago

But of course, also technology with no obvious physical cues like faces or other cues like voice/spoken language at all can convey social presence. For example simply in presenting an error message, respectively by using written language/plain copy to communicate with a human. The example error message above is not providing any helpful hint what exactly has happened/has gone wrong and also it uses a strange language (It says: Error found. Error only could be removed by a programmer. Course not usable) – so I will attribute this behavior to the product/company behind it: eg they are blaming me for that error only a programmer can remove, so they are unhelpful and they don’t care about me /their customers/users etc.

So, in all these cases, considering theories provided by social psychology research and lessons learned from human-to-human interaction can serve as a valuable source of information and also guidance when it comes to making design decisions for interactive products or any computing technology. For better understanding, I recommend trying out how the communication would be perceived if it were a human-to-human interaction instead of a human-computer interaction. This works quite well in e.g a role-playing game within your team. One is the user while the other person is playing the computer or application. So you can pay attention to how the communication will feel like. Another way may be simply writing down the interaction as a System/User dialogue and behavior, considering the System as a character.

With that in mind, I’ll leave you with Paul Watzlawick’s “One cannot not communicate”.

The Wonderful World of Human Cognition: The time course of visual perception

„We see the forest before the trees“

– Navon, D. (1977)

How do we perceive objects? Classic theories of object recognition (so-called feature theories) often claim that we first process specific features/details of something followed by a more general processing. This is not true: There is strong evidence that our visual system is designed that general (or global) processing is typically prior and quicker compared to detailed (or local) processing. For example: Generally, words are recognized before its individual letters. However, this effect does not always occur: it could be manipulated by instructions to focus either on global or local items more – or simply by putting smaller items (local items like for example letters of a word) of an object further apart or make them bigger.

This coarse-to-fine way of visual perception is also supported by neuroscience. Several studies (Musel et al., 2012; Flevaris et al.,2014; Livingstone, 2000) found that visual processing develops over time – even if it seems instantaneous to us. In the following video neurobiologist, Dr. Margaret Livingstone demonstrates that a focus on so-called spatial frequencies (it claims that the visual cortex operates on a code of spatial frequency, not on the code of straight edges and lines) could help to explain why the smile of the Mona Lisa is so elusive.

A screenshot from the video shows the steps on how we perceive objects based on the theory: Very low spatial frequencies (left) –> coarse or global processing, low spatial frequencies (centre) and high spatial frequencies (on the right) for detailed, local processing

Implications on design:
So, why could these findings be interesting for (interface) design? Findings like this can help us to focus on simplicity in e.g icon design where people often will have a much harder time to recognize an icon when it is designed with too many details, which may be perceived as distracting or even somehow unpleasant simply because it takes longer for humans to process the details (= more cognitive work to do).

It may be also important for the topic of visual hierarchy or: the arrangements of all the elements in a design which makes sure that one can find the way to the information needed and which separates important from not-so-important information.

Further reading:
Navon, D. (1977). Forest before trees: the precedence of global features in visual perception. Cogn. Psychol. 9, 353–383.

Hegdé, J. (2008). Time course of visual perception: Coarse-to-fine processing and beyond. Progress in Neurobiology, 84, 405–439.

Flevaris, A.V., Martinez, A. & Hillyard, S.A. (2014). Attending to global versus local stimulus fea- tures modulates neural processing of low versus high spatial frequencies: An analysis with event- related brain potentials. Frontiers in Psychology, 5 (Article 277).

Image source: Forest Wide by Joe Hart; CC BY 2.0

The Wonderful World of Human Cognition: How the Ames Room tricks our Brain

Despite the fact that we know that people normally don’t change their sizes so fast this knowledge – which is normally used to estimate our size and distance perception – is simply overwritten by the cues suggesting the wall is at right angles which creates a visual illusion of parallel walls in the room.

Visual perception: Gestalt Theorie Basics im UI Design

Gestaltpsychologie beschäftigt sich mit den Phänomenen, Dinge als Ganzes wahrnehmen zu können, „Visual perception: Gestalt Theorie Basics im UI Design“ weiterlesen

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