This blog is written by Nathalie Nahai, PsychMatters’ Editor at Large and keynote speaker at April’s Psych Conference. Last month Nathalie spoke to special guest – none other than Dr Susan Weinschenck, The Brain Lady herself.
With a Ph.D. in Psychology and over 30 years of experience as a behavioural psychologist, I figured we’d be in for a very exciting interview… She didn’t disappoint.
The problem with eye-tracking. Now, I love eye-tracking. LOVE it. But as you’ll no doubt be aware, human behaviour is an incredibly complex, mercurial thing that requires a whole slew of tools to investigate and grasp in its entirety (and even then, it’s questionable whether a complete understanding can ever truly be reached).
What good, academically-tried-and-tested eye-tracking tools can do (my favourite being Eyequant), is provide a richer, more detailed understanding of where your attention is focused when you scan a website, or which perceptual path your gaze will follow when you first clap eyes on a landing page.
What it won’t (and can’t) do, is map out the (usually subconscious) impact of the peripheral cues we’re continuously picking up outside of that tiny, direct area of focus (that, of course, is where web psychology comes in)…
The power of peripheral vision (PV) on websites. In fact, it was precisely this point that I found so striking about Susan’s talk, and when we revisited this in our interview, she said,
I think we totally underestimate the importance of peripheral vision
And it’s not just in everyday life, either. When it comes to websites, Susan says that there are two reasons why peripheral vision is so important:
1. Taking a snapshot
We’re using PV to decide about the gist of the scene – are you at the webpage you’re looking for?
This is largely happening unconsciously, so although our central vision may be looking at the middle of the page… our PV is picking up other cues around that for us to decide…
‘Where am I?’
‘Is this where I want to be?’
‘Am I interested in this?’
TOP TIP: So, how can you use this?
Well, you can incorporate logos and cues about your company, as well as important words or phrases about the content on that page, so that you’re sending an unconscious message to your customers that ‘yes, you are on the right page’. A great example of this (which also leads nicely into the 2nd point), is the website for Saints Row:
2. Emotional content
The second important way in which we use peripheral vision online is to assess emotional content, especially for anything that has to do with danger or alert. Susan cites that in our desire to create responsive websites,
These days a lot of designs don’t use the entire periphery of the screen. The periphery is blank white and all the action’s happening in the middle
And while this is OK and in some cases preferable (especially when it comes to online shopping, where we don’t want background images to interfere with the products), nonetheless Susan points out that,
We’re missing an opportunity… if you’re trying to communicate to someone that they’d better renew their insurance policy and not let it lapse because it’s going to be dangerous, any images of danger and car accidents on the periphery of the screen would actually have an impact
TOP TIP: What about your customers?
If you’re solving a problem for your customers, and you want them to be reminded of the reason they’re coming to you for help, then using the right kind of image that provokes the appropriate emotional state can be a powerful way of subconsciously boosting your visitors’ motivation, thus increasing the probability that they’ll actually convert.
It doesn’t have to be doom and gloom, either – it can be as simple as getting your customers in the mood for Christmas.
Grab the opportunity!
As Susan says, when it comes to the more subtle, subconscious cues we’re conveying on our websites, which includes designing for PV,
I think we’re just not thinking about that, we’re not aware that that’s an important part of the screen
In short, while the rest of your competitors are optimising their websites for the areas in which we direct our focussed attention, if you really want to get the upper hand it can pay to start exploring how you can leverage your customers’ peripheral vision to increase your conversions.
And then it’s just a question of testing, people.
Go get ‘em.
So… Enjoy this post? This is just a brief snapshot. Listen to the whole recording here