DESIGNING FOR ATTENTION

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Author: Shib Hussain, Strategist, BBH London

The competition for user attention. (Image courtesy of College Humour)

Attention as a currency has long been discussed. It was brought to the mainstream by the work of Davenport and Becks in the aptly titled book, The Attention Economy. Everything (and now everyone) competes for your attention, however consumers only have a finite set of attention to ‘pay’ to all these competing messages.

Since The Attention Economy was written in 2001 much has changed.
The web has evolved, both in terms of volume and the medium through which it is delivered. Everything demands your attention, mobile competes with desktop, desktop competes with TV – and soon TV will compete with your wearable.

But….

Since The Attention Economy was written in 2001 very little has changed!
A lot of brands are still taking an analogue approach to the web, both when designing experiences and sharing content. Putting the extended version of the ad on YouTube is a prime example of us not taking the lessons of the attention economy on board – there are few ads people want to watch, let alone watching a four minutes director’s cut. And yet we often see online as the opportunity to create longer content, breaking free from the shackles of a 30second TV spot.

Here’s two thoughts that may lead to an alternative approach:

Start with attention, not message
Understand how much time you have first before deciding how to craft the message/experience. Imagine working from a starting point that a user has to be able to completely customise a car in 20 seconds. This would flip the traditional approach of how a brief and the output is approached. Design would focus on maximising ease and speed – not the multiple messages that need communicating. The experience would be rooted in showing the core product story, not the marketing veneer. This leads nicely on to the next key point to consider….

Design for ‘the lazy consumer’
In the words of Stanford’s BJ Fogg, ‘we are designing for the lazy consumer’ (as opposed to brand advocates). This means we may need to sacrifice complex digital storytelling, for a simpler narrative.

Tinder comes to mind as a great example of designing for laziness, it makes finding a match quicker and easier. It chooses to sacrifice extra features and functions and simply focus on the core job a user is trying to complete – find a match. This sacrifice is reflected in the UX and importantly, the data input to begin with. Data input is the key. The onboarding of Tinder is designed for a lazy user. There’s little or no forms to complete and limited choices to make before the user gets to see matches. Dating sites as a category have over the years fallen to ‘feature creep’, adding more layers and therefore adding more complexity to the task.

Although these may seem like two simple things to do, they can easily be overlooked and too much focus put on the brand experience as opposed to consumer behaviour. Thinking about these may help move digital experiences into things that people find useful as opposed to time consuming, something that will be beneficial for all parties involved!

I’ll end it there, as I’m sure there are at least another 10 things screaming for your attention right now….that’s if you made it this far.

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