Today, we are going to learn about the importance of awareness, the different modes and types of attention that we all have, how design is a finite resource, and how you can design for different levels of attention. You probably notice the soldier in the middle of the slide that is yawning. Recent research tells us that a yawn is a sign of fatigue AND it does slightly increase your awareness, too. Feel free to yawn now.
This young man is a Digital Native, who has never known a world without the Internet, on-demand movies, DVRs, mobile devices, social networks, instant messaging, and so on. Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Digg, Netflix, and YouTube are simply a part of his life. His parents are known as Digital Immigrants, who mainly grew up with Television, Radio, and VCRs as their primary technology. Digital technology impacts each of these groups.
For Digital Immigrants, they grew up on traditional media where newspapers, magazine, broadcast TV, and radio were the primary mediums. For Digital Natives, content is still delivered via these traditional media outlets and through various social networks.
The content can be disruptive. Time shifting has started to occur, where we do not consume content at the moment that we find. It is simply coming in too fast. According to Read It Later (http://readitlaterlist.com/blog/2011/01/is-mobile-affecting-when-we-read/), the amount of content is like a maniacal paperboy sending you new editions every 15 seconds.
We now have many devices—mobile phones, tablets, computers, music players—to deliver this content. The amount of content competes for our attention. You might be surprised to know that you have many different levels of attention. As designers and developers, we need to know these differences to more effectively build products and services to get people’s attention.
Here is the classic definition of awareness from William James, which is over 100 years old. He defined attention as “the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence.” In many respects, this definition is still accurate.
So, attention is a withdrawal to avoid distractions, so you are not dazed and confused. This definition was well before the advent of the Internet or social networks….
William James did not live during an Information Age. His definition falls short. You might want to consider that Maniacal Paperboy throwing content at you every 15 minutes or so.
Herbert Simon was the first person to describe information in economic terms. According to Simon, when you have a wealth of information, your attention becomes a scarce resource. He calls it a “poverty of attention.”
In 1996, Simon postulated that many early IT designers incorrectly represented their design problem as information scarcity rather than attention scarcity. When you fast forward to 2011, Simon’s definition are truly prophetic. Again, the MANIACAL PAPAERBOY IS STILL THROWING STUFF AT US EVERY 15 MINUTES.
Tome Davenport had the following statement in his article called The Attention Economy: Understanding the New Currency of Businessfor Harvard Business Review in 2001. “Attention is focused mental engagement on a particular item of information. Items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act.”
Davenport likened the Attention Economy to drivers that advertisers already know too well. It is called AIDA. No, it is not the Elton John musical. AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire, action. The key to any successful message or business campaign is going to be drawing attention to it. And, there is still a cost associated to it. Ironically, this is the same concept used by magicians.
We can agree that we live in an information-rich society, where we are being bombarded with information. Let’s examine the different modes of attention to see how economically it impacts your life.
Passive attention is when you involuntary use your attention. Your body and mind are cognizant of the temperature, sounds, sights, and more – both internally and externally. You do not focus on these things unless you need to. You are in “auto-pilot”.
You hear things in the library, but you are focused on reading. You mow the lawn, while thinking of other things….suddenly, it is done. You drive to work for the 500th time, and suddenly you are there. When you drive the next day, you think of the chores you need to do, going to the store, paying bills, and going by the back. Suddenly, you hear a screeching of wheels and a horn. You snap out of passive attention into ACTIVE attention.
Active attention is when you voluntary focus, disregarding other distractions (which are rival claimants of your attention). You swerve to avoid the car crash, and then you remain focused for the rest of the drive to work.
Here are a few examples of active attention: a surgeon operating on a patient, a basketball player attempting a free throw, or someone climbing a slippery slope.
You might be surprised to learn that you have several types of active attention. Scientists have classified five different levels of active attention.
Norma, Concentration, Selective, Alternating, and Divided. Upon first glance, you might cluster selective, alternating, and divided together. The definitions and examples will help to clarify their differences.
Normal Attention: You consciously focus on a single task.
A doctor needs to suture an artery. A nurse monitors the patient’s vital signs.
You are trying to sink a long putt.
You are juggling with friends. Throw, catch, throw, catch, throw, catch.
Concentration is being very focused, where you are avoiding distractions, stretching your current skills, or doing something you deem as important.
You are in a crowded room. You tune out the rest of the room, so you can concentrate on what another person is saying.
You are reading a book for important information. You set aside time to read this book. You unplug your computer and turn off off your cell phone.
You are gymnast, adding a half twist to your final vault. Stick the landing for the Gold medal. You visualize, concentrate, and go!
Selective attention is when you unconsciously black out specific information, while you perform a task.
Yes, it is in your visual range. Something is there, but you miss it.
You see the patterns. Your mind makes connections.
But, you miss the gorilla. You no longer see the banner advertisement. You tune out information, even in your visual range. You do have selective attention.
Alternation attention is when focus in on one task, but you are somewhat aware of another thing. Your mind acts like a TV remote that switches your attention from one thing to something else, back to the original thing, and so on.
You are reading a mystery book in your den, as your family watches an episode of “Family Guy”. You like that show.
Sweet!!! It is one of those Star Wars episodes that I like. I have seen it like 14 times already.
I want to finish this chapter. For now!
That’s pretty freakin sweet, Brian! I love this part. Ok, back to the book. For now.
Divided attention is when you attempt to divide your attention between many different tasks.
You have just loaded the dryer, loaded the washer, and your folding the clothes. While doing the laundry, you are listening to two other things.
You want to hear your children reading, as they all need the practice. At the same time, you are acutely aware of dinner.
Your kids have a slumber party later tonight. You are listening for the oven timer to go off and smelling to make sure nothing burns. You periodically check the food. Yes, divided attention is something that all parents know.
Divided attention is also labeled ‘multi-tasking”, which is a misnomer. Yes, you can do multiple things, but not at the same time really. You really just do rapid task switching. Scientists have researched multi-tasking and know that you task efficiency drops as you add more tasks. Ironically, Digital Natives consider themselves great multi-taskers—they do homework with the computer on. They instant message with friends, update Facebook, use a search engine, Tweet, and so on. Suddenly, it is midnight and their homework is still not done.
We come full circle. Our brain is this wonderful filter that allows us to stay attuned to the world, filter information, and focus in many different ways. Our digital age still has us competing with that maniacal paperboy bombarding us with content every 15 minutes.
What are some design strategies for the attention economy?
We can classify two different approaches. The first is a user-driven approach. The second is a system-driven one.
Let’s focus on some user-driven approaches.
There are many ways that users can be successful at focusing in the Attention Economy. They can attend task-driven training, set up verbal protocols, create user checklists, and perform advanced training.
Task-driven training is something that you do to prepare yourself. Preparation determines success. I have given this presentation to several different organizations. I mess up 4 or 5 times each time. Yet, I am able to recover from these mistakes through rehearsal, memorization, and so on. I ignore distractions and focus on primary tasks. In some respects, I am like an actor that has learned their lines, but performs differently based upon the situation. Task-driven training allow you to focus. It also reduces stress.
People establish verbal protocols to help them focus on what is important. In 2009, I read a report by some NASA engineers that talked about a some verbal protocol to test some systems. Four words equaled major focus – Wait, Activate, Deactivate, Explain. My spouse tells me their a three more powerful words.
If you have read “The Six Thinking Hats” by Edward de Bono, pick it up today. I no longer perform Design Studio project without this verbal protocol. The white hat is about facts, which can help you to determine the design parameters for sketching. The green hat is what you use when you sketch, re-sketch and mashup. The team sketches seperately, but reviews together. When they present their sketches, they use the white hat (just the facts about their ideas, no opinions). They wear the blue hat and cluster similar ideas. The team wears the yellow hat to explore the positive aspects of the designs—what is the value and benefit of a green hat sketch. Next, the team reviews the critical aspects about each idea (why it may not work). Lastly, the team votes (wearing the red hat), which is based upon emotions, intuition, and experience.
We have all heard about the impressive heroics of Captain “Sully”. Sully had lots of advanced training, which even including gliding a large aircraft. With all of the distractions of that day, Sully’s advanced training kicked into high gear. Time slowed down. Nobody died. Advanced training saves lives.
Sometimes, the easiest way to get people to focus is a checklist. Simple checklists can be very effective. If you have not read “The Checklist Manifesto”, you need to buy it today and read it tonight. You will never look at checklists the same way. Adopted by the World Health Organization in 2008, this simple checklist saw post-surgery issues drop by over one-third and deaths almost reduced by 50%. Checklists are powerful because they reduce your mental load, just follow the checklist and focus on what’s important. For surgeons, it is their patient’s life.
We can also design our systems to help make people more aware of things. We can adopt an interruption or notification strategy depending upon the level of importance of the information. Making a design that is multi-modal, where people can see, smell, taste, feel, or hear something different. Use interactions smartly to draw people’s attention (simple, elegant animation can make a world of difference).
Remember those two modes of attention: active and passive. Use an Interruption Strategy for active awareness. Use a Notification Strategy for passive awareness. This simple philosophy will really help you to design for awareness in the attention economy.
Your interruption strategy has to be big and obvious. You need to people’s attention. To get people to act, you need to make things as simple as possible (make it a binary choice). Also, use SOUND to create a multi-modal experience. People pay attention to sound more that heat, smell, vibrations, color, and light. Ambulances, smoke detectors, error messages, system alerts, and so on should use a higher pitch noise to draw peoples attention. You people to act.
Your interruptions should be significant, such as potential loss of life, data, money, or some impending disaster. Make the information in the center with instructions that require immediate action.
I want to dinner last night. I left my laptop on. When I cam back, the system gave me this notification.
Then, the system automatically started a Full Scan of my laptop. This display was in the center of my viewing area. The virus was being quarantined. I just monitored.
Again, sound is important. Some people customize their phones with ring tones. The phone vibrates, lights up, and rings to alert of an incoming call. You don’t have to use sound, though. On the right is an interruption strategy used for a survey tool. They choose to interrupt every 100th person rather than each person. This is known as a Controlled Interruption Strategy.
If you want to passively make people aware of information, you will use a Notification Strategy. Information is usually on the edges of design. It is usually information. It can be a binary choice (ie Take Our Poll). So, my Facebook account has 4 new things. The phone on the bottom left is almost out of its battery charge (see the battery indicator on the top right. The NASCAR page shows the content that is most popular there. The CNN site is tracking the most clicked items. ESPN uses a scoreboard ticker for casual sports enthusiasts to keep track of scores during March madness.
With a Notification Strategy, you are showing important information and making people aware of something. You are designing for passive awareness, though. It is on the fringes of the scan path of the eye. The information does not really interrupt anyone. These awareness patterns are just there.
Let’s go through an example of a design that uses a lot of passive awareness patterns. Here is Hoot Suite, which is something that I use to manage Twitter account for myself and the Big Design Conference.
Okay, I know one thing has changed.
No picture means it might be a spammer.
Blue dot means that I have read this thing.
The yellow box that says Promoted by means this thing is an advertisement. Plus it gets the first position, too.
Here is a short URL with OWLY. I can click here.
Cool, a hashtag called #fightfightfight. Not as popular as Charlie Sheen’s #winning one, I bet.
Show Conversation means I can click on it to be nosy.
Here is another example of a Notification Strategy. You are playing Call of Duty. You text a friend to join.
Sweet!!! PiX3L Monkey is now online. Time to get the bad guys.
Let’s assume an Interruption Method had been used.
TMI, buddy. This is too much information. Cool, he completed the Zombie Moscow Level. I am jealous! But, I do not want this information to cover up the other cool stuff, especially if I was in a hard core battle with Nazi Aliens from Section 42.
Your notification strategy does not have to be on the fringe. Here is the famous tiles of the Windows Mobile 7 Phone. Assume you have first woke up in the morning.
You have: missed one call, have voice mail, 2 text messages, 2 emails, its partly cloudy, 46 degrees, and no meetings on Saturday.
Besides your interruption and notification strategies, you want to make your designs multi-modal. By multi-modal, we mean that they are using different sensory input. Neuro scans show that different parts of your brain light up when you are using different senses. Neuro-scientists recommend that people who use their hand play classical music because it aids in stress reduction and helps with eye-hand coordination.
According to MIT, your brain is really aware of a lot more sensory data than you might realize.
MIT says that your brain is passively aware of 400 billion bits of data. It ignores much of the data, filtering it out.
You do have an active awareness of 2,000 bits. Whew!!! That number dropped a lot, right. It is still loads of information.
Now, I want you to add processing speed. You are actively aware of 2,000 bits/second, but you only process 60 bits/second. Where id the other information go….remember the different levels of active awareness (normal, concentration, selective, alternating, and divided). It depends upon what you are doing, your environment, and your situation.
Multi-modal design can really help you to remember things. Your ability to recall things is greatly enhanced. Quick, recite the ingredients of a Big Mac.
Cool! You sang the song. You know the ingredients by heart because of multi-modal design.
You literally see, smell, taste, feel, eat, and sing the ingredients. Multi-modal design encodes it into your brain. You can recall the ingredients because they can travel along different neural paths in your head.
Again, common multi-modal designs might include vibration of a game controller, temperature-activated labels, ring tones on your phone, change colors when you tap something, or your phone lighting up when someone calls you. All of these designs are subtle ways to notify you that something has happened. They do not interfere with your work. The do greatly enhance the user experience.
Lastly, interaction design is a critical way to make people aware of thing. Here is a panorama. See how featured and some pictures barely show. It is to gently let the users know they should swipe for more information. The designers are avoiding a Swipe Stopper.
Interactions are very personal. You activate them. You are in control. You can explore what interests you. These personal interactions allow you to focus.
The simple interaction of a pivot allows you to greatly control large data sets. You literally focus on what interests you. For hotel, we can pivot by price, nearness, or star rating.
Interactions with context are dynamite. Some contextual things to consider include: what’s recent, popular, frequent, events, location , share, recommendations. Here is Realtor.com. I can go back to what was recently viewed or recently searched. I can see what is nearby to any home. It has interactions with a lot of context.
Interactions plus Context equals Awareness. OnFandago, I can swipe, tap, or pinch to what In Theater Now, Within 15 Miles, Opening This Week, Reviews, and Coming Soon. Knowing this application is there takes a mental load off my brain. I can focus on other things
Send me an email at email@example.com. Connect on Twitter @BrianKSullivan. You will find me planning World Usability Day and Big Design Conference during the early Spring of each year. Now, go out a design for awareness in the attention economy.
Classic Definition of Awareness<br />Attention
is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence.<br /> -William James<br />
Attention Economy (1971)<br />The wealth
of information means a dearth of something else: a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes, (which is) the attention of its recipients. <br /> A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it.<br /> -Herbert Simon (1971)<br />
Attention Currency (2001)<br />Attention is
focused mental engagement on a particular item of information. Items come into our awareness, we attend to a particular item, and then we decide whether to act.<br /> -Tom Davenport(2001)<br />
Passive Attention [pas-iv] [uh-ten-shuhn] <br
/> Passive attention is involuntary use of attention. Some scholars have called it “being in auto-pilot.” People usually snap out of passive attention because of an external factor (sudden loud noise). <br />
Passive Mode:<br />You perform a
mundane task (like driving to work for 500th time), so it does not require your full attention. <br /><ul><li>The laundry is piled up.- I need to go to the store.- I need money from the ATM.</li></ul>When you almost hit a car, your attention moves to ACTIVE mode!!!<br />
Active Attention [ak-tiv] [uh-ten-shuhn] <br
/> Active attention is the voluntary focusing of attention under difficulties, attention by disregarding distraction, attention to which there are rival claimants, — in short, choosing to mentally focus on something.<br />
Active Attention Types:<br /> Normal<br
/> Concentration<br /> Selective<br /> Alternating<br /> Divided<br />Concentration is sustained focus on activity, where you purposely avoid distractions, stretch your current skills, or do something you consider to be very important.<br />
Concentration:<br />Concentration is a sustained
focus, usually dealing with distractions, doing something important, or doing something beyond your normal limits.<br /><ul><li> Listening to someone at a noisy party- Reading a book- Doing a skateboard stunt</li></ul>Tuning out conversations at a party to talk with someone important.<br />
Concentration:<br />Concentration is a sustained
focus, usually dealing with distractions, doing something important, or doing something beyond your normal limits.<br /><ul><li> Listening to someone at a noisy party- Reading a book- Doing a skateboard stunt</li></ul>Reading a book for a school or work project, so you focus on specific information.<br />
Active Attention Types:<br /> Normal<br
/> Concentration<br /> Selective<br /> Alternating<br /> Divided<br />Selective attention is unconsciously blocking out other stimulus, while you are performing some task.<br />
A moon-walking bear- A storm
trooper- Child-dressed up as a Ninja Turtle</li></li></ul><li>Active Attention Types:<br /> Normal<br /> Concentration<br /> Selective<br /> Alternating<br /> Divided<br />Alternating attention is focus in on one task and you “tune in” to another one from time to time. <br />
Concentration:<br />Concentration is a sustained
focus, usually dealing with distractions, doing something important, or doing something beyond your normal limits.<br /><ul><li> Listening to someone at a noisy party- Reading a book- Doing a skateboard stunt</li></ul>You are reading a book for pleasure, while an episode of “Family Guy” plays on TV.<br />
Concentration:<br />Concentration is a sustained
focus, usually dealing with distractions, doing something important, or doing something beyond your normal limits.<br /><ul><li> Listening to someone at a noisy party- Reading a book- Doing a skateboard stunt</li></ul>“I’ve seen that episode back to the book.”(for now)<br />
Active Attention Types:<br /> Normal<br
/> Concentration<br /> Selective<br /> Alternating<br /> Divided<br />Divided attention is when you divide your level attention between many things. You do not really focus on any one, as you split your attention. Some folks call it “multi-tasking.”<br />
Myths About Multi-tasking<br />You do
not multi-task.<br />You do rapid task switching.<br />Better to complete one task.<br />Task efficiency decreases with each additional task.<br />Digital natives think they are great multi-taskers:- Do homework- Update Facebook- Search Internet<br />
Simple Checklists are Effective<br />Checklist
Manifesto (2007)<br />WHO adopts it in 2008:- 8 remote Tanzania hospitals- Post surgery issues drop 36%- Deaths reduced by 47%<br />Only checklist was adopted:- No new equipment bought- No extra money spent- Results were in 6 months<br />
Interruption versus Notification<br />Interruption strategy
”How we activelyinterrupt people to make them aware of critical or sensitive information?”<br />Notification strategy “How we passively show relevant information that people might want to know?”<br />Interruptions = Active AwarenessNotifications = Passive Awareness<br />
Interruption Strategy = Obvious<br />Put
in center of screen<br />Make it BIG (obvious)<br />Design a binary choice<br />Use multi-modal design(recommend using sound)<br />Did you know……..Multi-modal design is not equal.According to Welch (1986), the modality of soundwas better for active interruptions than heat, smell, vibration, color, or light.<br />NOTE<br />
Make It Multi-Modal<br />Different parts
of the brain process information.<br />Multi-modal designs use different sensory triggers in the brain.<br />Did you know……..Neuroscientists recommend doctors play classical music in surgery. It relaxes the stress centers of the brain and seems to aid to eye-hand coordination.<br />