Users and attention

Our attention is limited, because we are easily distracted by the surrounding world. But we also long for attention through our relationships with other people. When we feel more valued and respected, we open more to others. But we increasingly rely on technology for communication, which leads to alienation.

There are billions of websites, exactly as there are billions of people. They all seek for more attention, which can be valuable in some way—getting more visitors, sales, profits, love, joy, happiness etc—and remains sustainable in the long-term.

Here I'll describe three possible perspectives—of a site owner, of a user and of designer,—each of them having three factors, which can be used to draw more attention.

The site owner perspective or how we can attract more users

When we have a unique and innovative product/service, we can attract more of the people's attention. Otherwise, we won't be visible among a see of sameness and won't be able to differentiate ourselves.

When we are more transparent and show what is happening behind the scenes, we can grab more attention. We can show more details of what we are doing, how we are doing it, who we are doing it with. We can explain things that are hard to understand, describe processes that are hard to imagine, show the ingredients we consider while preparing a solution or make a preview of a service that will be available soon to facilitate the user's decisions.

When we engage with users in continuous communication, we can ask them for simple feedback and answer to them promptly. This leaves them with a positive experience, no matter if their problems are solved or not. People respect us more when they feel that their opinion counts.

The user perspective or when we love to come back

The user interface is one of the first things we see as users. The ease of use reduces the required time to do certain things and makes us more productive. Users usually hate long and complicated processes, so we need to allow them to complete their tasks with the least possible amount of steps. The tone of the language used in the interface is also part of it. It needs to sound humane, not machine-like. This becomes most apparent in the way we describe possible error messages—"Error 404" isn't in natural language.

When we find more valuable content on a site, we're more inclined to visit it again. The frequency and length of our visits will be proportional to the value we find. Frequent updates, delivering high value, will increase the frequency of our visits.

Our time is our most precious asset and we have never enough of it, which is why we appreciate speed. We want to have everything here and now. It's not only what a site we use delivers, it's how it delivers it.

The designer perspective or how to please owners and users

As designers, we have to identify the most important things, accentuate on the most important interface elements and communicate their relative importance to the user. This can be achieved with meaningful positioning of elements, appropriate size and color scheme. While programmers should be paid for deleting code, visual designers should be paid for cutting out unnecessary UI elements.

We should lead the user through the interface and support every single step of what he/she does. If these steps collide with the user's expectations, they'll be reluctant to continue.

As designers, we need to make things obvious and self-explanatory. A good design doesn't need a description or explanation. If we put "Open here" on a package design, it means it wasn't obvious to the user. We shouldn't make people think how to use something we've created.