What you see is all there is

Written by Tom Greenwood - September 21, 2012

Article read time: 3 minutes

When designing websites it is easy to assume that people will look for the things that they want.  For example, if they want to buy Pingu – Bouncy Fun on DVD, then they’ll find it and buy it.  Or if they want to contact a plumber, they’ll find the contact page on the plumber’s website and get in touch.

They are in control of their web browsing experience and their online purchases.

Aren’t they?

Well, to some extent of course we all have control over our own actions, but research has proven that people’s behaviour can be strongly influenced by design.  Renowned behavioural economist Daniel Kahneman states that “What you see is all there is”, and that most human decisions are based on quick, intuitive and flawed perceptual processes.  In short, humans tend to do what is obvious and easy, not what is best.  That kind of sucks, but when you become aware of it you can start to take more informed decisions, and use that knowledge to design more effective marketing campaigns.

Have you ever noticed how the most expensive products in the supermarket are at eye level and the cheapo products are on the top or bottom shelf?  That’s because they know that you’ll be most tempted to buy the things that are staring you in the face.

Photo by VauVau http://www.flickr.com/photos/vauvau/

The exact same principle applies in website design

A recent paper published in Journal of Consumer Psychology presented a study conducted by Caltech researchers in which they showed a range of products to a group of candidates and asked them to rate which ones they liked and disliked the most.  They were then asked to browse a pretend ecommerce website and make purchases.  When all products were presented equally, they naturally bought the products that they liked the most, but things got interesting when the scenario was tweaked.

Make it POP!

The researchers found that they could significantly increase purchases of a product simply by increasing the brightness so that the product visually pops out.  They found that other similar design tricks to make a product visually stand out compared to the other products had the same effect.

The extent to which they could manipluate peoples behaviour was exaggerated under the following conditions:

  1. Time constraints – If a decision needs to made quickly, they do what is obvious
  2. Visual similarity – If products look similar, it is easier to influence people to choose an alternative to the one they prefer
  3. Multi-tasking – If the customer is busy doing other things while making a decision, they are easier to influence

When we are browsing the web, all three of these factors often apply.  We are often in a hurry, browsing other sites and chatting with friends at the same, and many of the things we see online look very similar.  All of this stacks up to suggest that you could massively improve the effectiveness of a website by making the things you want people to see visually stand out from everything else.

It might sound obvious, but now there is the research to prove it.  What they see is what they click, so make sure that people see the right things!

How do we know what people see?

Until recently, applying these principles was a case of using the intuition and experience of the designer to emphasise some elements of a design over others.  But the people who visit your site do not see it in the same way as you and your designer.  So how can you know what they are seeing without resorting to guesswork?

Eye tracking studies provide the solution to this problem and tell you as a matter of fact, what people are really seeing.  A full blown eye tracking study can take weeks and cost a fortune, but EyeQuant predictive eye tracking software uses the science of visual perception to accurately tell you what people are seeing quickly and cheaply.

As an official agency partner of EyeQuant, we can help you improve your website conversions using the EyeQuant software, and in a few days time we’ll be giving you the opportunity to get a free analysis of your website.

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