The Fleeting Generosity Of Users’ Attention

We, as users, do not grant much time. A significant benefit of interacting with a machine instead of humans, is to accomplish a task, by means of a short path, which will save us time so that we can proceed to undertake other more interesting, more pleasurable, or meaningful endeavors.

Unless, of course, the user is in a frame of mind to waste time – which is fine, but I would like to own that in this discussion I am interested in scenarios during which a perceived value is offered by the interactive engagement, or is a product of the interaction, whether that value is entertainment, saving time, gaining insight, financial return, – anything that represents value to the user.

Therein lies a key to engaging users: if the perceived value is clearly apparent at first glance, the UI/UX is communicating clear return in exchange for the attention of the user. If this exchange doesn’t happen within moments, the likelihood is high that the user will move on to other activities and never grant attention again.

This principle of engagement is not only one of a few essential components to a successful experience, it is also bound by order. It has to happen, and it has to happen first. In other words, no other cues can precede, you can’t try to educate the user first to get buy-in, make the user read a paragraph, watch a video, the return for the user’s attention has to be evident right away.

One would hope that by now in terms of the evolution of our public knowledge as a general community creating software applications what I’ve said above would seem to be so obvious as to be a burden to read. But given the over whelming evidence presented in software in general, it still seems necessary to come back to the fundamental requirements. It’s easy to state the requirement, somewhat simple to understand why this is so, but requires skill to accomplish. It is as easy to lose this part of the song as it is to understand the concept of the principle and its fundamental importance.

Having described the challenge, I hardly think it would be appropriate to suggest there is only one way to accomplish this. Every designer and team who has succeeded in placing this segment of interaction can probably testify to a complex but elegant process for getting it done, but may be reluctant to share it outside the team.

I also do not mean to suggest this challenge is resolved only by the design and build team, it starts with the vision for the software. While I am not willing to claim only one method as a path to getting this done, one of the most elemental components that enables the process is the willingness to take the time to clarify the objective and the value offered to the user. Among the reasons getting this part right can go astray is a rush to claim the space, to present as credible before sorting out competing reasons why the proposition is credible, or designing the image and branding as a separate component. It all has to work together, and if it doesn’t, fragmentation is obvious in simple terms.