Odd Nature of Chicken Eyes

When it comes to thinking about how input is perceived, few people think about chickens. However, the whole range of perception has attracted my attention because I see the topics as being interrelated in various ways. I find it interesting that chickens actually have a kind of vision that most of us can’t really imagine. For one thing, instead of the orderly array of cones that humans have, chickens have a disorderly set of cones that actually rely on a different state of matter from those in human eyes. Chickens see color better than humans do and they see a wider range of colors. Humans see red, green, and blue. Chickens see red, green, and blue as well, but they can also see ultraviolet and have a special motion detecting cone (for a total of five cone types to our three).

There are a number of reasons I’m interested in the topic. Of course, we raise chickens and the more I know about them, the better. My interest goes way beyond just raising the chickens though. When I wrote Accessibility for Everybody: Understanding the Section 508 Accessibility Requirements, I experimented with all sorts of techniques for improving a human’s ability to interact with the world. A lot of people might think the book is focused on special needs, but really, it’s focused on accessibility of all sorts for everyone. When a hunter uses a scope to see a long distance in order to hit a mark, it’s a form of interaction that could easily fall into the accessibility category. The hunter is compensating for the lack of long range vision by using a scope (an accessibility aid of sorts). The scientific examination of chicken eyes could lead to discoveries that will help us create accessibility aids that will allow humans to see a vast array of new colors naturally, rather than through color translation (where a color we can’t see is translated into a color we can see), as is done now.

The potential for such study goes even further. Most people don’t realize that men are naturally less able to see color than women. For example, 8 percent of men are colorblind, but only 1/2 of one percent of women have the same problem and usually to a lesser degree. Even odder, some women possess a fourth cone so they can see a vast array of colors that most people can’t even imagine. Only women have this ability. However, it might be possible to provide men with the same color perception through the use of an accessibility aid—one possibly modeled on the research done on chicken eyes.

The ways in which this research could help us out are nearly endless. For example, we rely on the superior smell capabilities of trained dogs to sniff out bombs and drugs. Chickens, as it turns out, can be trained as well (not to the degree that dogs are trainable, unfortunately). It might be possible to train chickens to alert to color discrepancies that only they can see. We could use trained chickens in the same way we currently use dogs.

There are other ways in which this research could benefit us. The actual chemistry of a chicken’s eye is unique. Studying the chemistry and discovering how it works could yield new compounds for us to use.

We look at various animals and think they’re only useful in one way. However, the more time I spend interacting with our animals, the more I come to realize that they really are useful in a host of ways. The next time you look at a laying hen, consider the fact that she can see things you’ll never even imagine. Let me know your thoughts about chickens, the unique nature of chicken eyes, and accessibility at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.


Considering Perception in User Interface Design

I read a couple of articles recently that reminded me of a user interface design discussion I once had with a friend of mine. First, let’s discuss the articles. The first, New Record for Human Brain: Fastest Time to See an Image, says that humans can actually see something in as little as 13 ms. That short time frame provides the information the brain needs to target a point of visual focus. This article leads into the second, ‘Sixth Sense’ Can Be Explained by Science. In this case, the author explains how the sixth sense that many people relate as being supernatural in origin is actually explainable through scientific means. The brain detects a change—probably as a result of that 13 ms view—and informs the rest of the mind about it. However, the change hasn’t been targeted for closer inspection, so the viewer can’t articulate the change. In short, you know the change is there, but you can’t say what has actually changed.

So, you might wonder what this has to do with site design. It turns out that you can use these facts to help focus user attention on specific locations on your site. Now, I’m not talking here about the use of subliminal perception, which is clearly illegal in many locations. Rather, it’s possible to do as a friend suggested in designing a site and change a small, but noticeable, element each time a page is reloaded. Of course, you need not reload the entire page. Technologies such as Asynchronous JavaScript And XML (AJAX) make it possible to reload just a single element as needed. (Of course, changing a single element in a desktop application is incredibly easy because nothing special is needed to do it.) The point of making this change is to cause the viewer to look harder at the element you most want them to focus on. It’s just another method for ensuring that the right area of a page or other user interface element gets viewed.

However, the articles also make for interesting thoughts about the whole issue of user interface design. Presentation is an important part of design. Your application must use good design principles to attract attention. However, these articles also present the idea of time as a factor in designing the user interface. For example, the order in which application elements load is important because the brain can perceive the difference. You might not consciously register that element A loaded some number of milliseconds sooner than element B, but subconsciously, element A attracts more attention because it registered first and your brain targeted it first.

As science continues to probe the depths of perception, it helps developers come up with more effective ways in which to present information in a way that enhances the user experience and the benefit of any given application to the user. However, in order to make any user interface change effective, you must apply it consistently across the entire application and ensure that the technique isn’t used to an extreme. Choosing just one element per display (whether a page, window, or dialog box) to change is important. Otherwise, the effectiveness of the technique is diluted and the user might not notice it at all.

What is your take on the use of perception as a means of controlling the user interface? Do you feel that subtle techniques like the ones described in this post are helpful? Let me know your thoughts at John@JohnMuellerBooks.com.