This is an update of a post that originally appeared on January 24, 2014.
The original version of this article had humans seeing images in as little as 13 ms. Nothing much has really changed since then. I read a few 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, Everything we see is a mash-up of the brain’s last 15 seconds of visual information, says that humans can actually see something in as little as 15 ms. That short time frame provides the information the brain needs to target a point of visual focus.
- The older second article, ‘Sixth Sense’ Can Be Explained by Science, 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 15 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.
- The third article, The silent “sixth” sense, is a more scientific and slightly modernized view of the second article. In short, you know the change is there, but you can’t say what has actually changed.
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. This essentially explains the difference between UX and UI, since the two are eternally intermingled in the world of development.
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 [email protected].