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The Art and Science of the Pre-Attentive Variable

About the Talk

April 24, 2015 1:45 PM

Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis, MN

It’s been used to explain everything from love to racism, but in actuality, the pre-attentive variable is a powerful concept that belongs in every information architect’s toolkit. Rooted in cognitive psychology, pre-attentive variables are elements that operate on a subconscious level, conveying information to users before they’re even aware of it. Pre-attentive variables can help users tell which articles are the newest, which videos are the highest rated, and which books are the most popular before they even start actively processing the information on the screen.

This presentation will cover the basics of pre-attentive variables – what they are, why they work, and when to use them – and will provide an overview of some design patterns to use when creating them, including:

  • Size
  • Shape
  • Color
  • Texture
  • Prominence
  • Focus
  • Orientation
  • Density

Participants will learn how to identify and analyze the effectiveness of these variables in existing interfaces, as well as how to design them for new experiences they create.

Session Takeaways

  • Pre-attentive variables are elements that subconsciously communicate information to users, before they have even started processing what's on the screen
  • Pre-attentive variables help IAs organize, prioritize and classify information for users in a meaningful way
  • Some top design patterns for pre-attentive variables include size, shape, color, texture, prominence, focus, orientation and density
  • Pre-attentive variables can be used for good, to influence positive user behavior, and for evil, to manipulate users against their will

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