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Building a Better Product: Managing Visual Information in a Data Sandstorm

In the last post, we talked about the process of employing human centered design to create better products. Thinking about your customer throughout the product development lifecycle is key. If you want to build products and services people care about, center your decisions around unfulfilled needs and hidden personal demands.

Unfulfilled needs and hidden personas demands are strongly tied to personal goals and pain points. If you are wondering why this is important, biology and psychology have the answers. Both play a vital part in uncovering behaviors and motivations.

Goals select the information we perceive and redirect the mental resources required for attention.  In “Designing with The Mind in Mind,” Jeff Johnson says we follow an information scent. We look for clues and take steps that will help us get closer to our goals. Consequently, we seek information that helps us carry out a pre-conceived plan.

Goals reveal customer priorities and how we can help them accomplish it. Similarly, unfulfilled needs highlight the tools and resources required to achieve these goals. Pain points inform us of the changes that’s required to create repeat customers.

As discussed in previous posts, people are designed with a certain set of capabilities and constraints. For example, the human eye and visual cortex are optimized to see structure. This is why we see  moms on toasts and faces on Mars.

Objects in close proximity appear grouped together, and objects that look similar feel like they belong together. One of many reasons we hate banner ads that have nothing to do with the articles we read. Strong knowledge of how vision is organized can help us improve the experiences we create for our customers.

In Johnson’s book, he states that visual perception is biased to perceive continuous forms and that it  automatically tries to close open figures. This is bad news if data is missing. It’s very important to spend time in the discovery phase talking to customers to identify expectations. If customers expect to receive feedback and none is offered, they may become unmotivated to use your tools and services.

Vision automatically organizes and interprets data to simplify it by giving it symmetry. This is one of many reasons we crave simplicity and PowerPoint decks with few words. Managing visual information in a data sandstorm is not easy. We are forced to be more selective and things have an easier way of hiding in plain sight.

When we look at visual limitations, we quickly learn that color vision is extremely limited. Vision is optimized for edge contrast not brightness. A great example of this are road signs that quickly grab our attention.

Our peripheral vision is also extremely poor. As we read in “Visual Thinking for Design” by Colin Ware, 50% of the visual cortex is dedicated to a focus area the size of a thumb nail, and the rest to everything else we see. This is essential knowledge when deciding where to place critical and most frequently accessed information. The most valuable piece of information will not be perceived unless it’s in the customer’s primary field of view.

Once visual information is received, it has to be processed. Information processing is influenced by cognitive resources such as memory and attention. Just as vision and perception have a set of capabilities and limitations, so do memory and attention. These limitations influence the way humans interact with products and services.

In the next edition of Building a Better Product, we’ll look at how our information processing system is structured and how this knowledge can help us create human centric solutions for our customers.

Sangam Napit
Sangam is a UX Research Manager and loves to create human-centric products. If he’s not spending time with family, mentoring at Gener8tor, or volunteering at Rotary, you can find him sharing ideas about starting new businesses over momos.