When citizens of the internet are using your system, you’ll have a series of goals for them to achieve in between turning on and tuning out. These goals will be simplistic and easy to achieve; seeing a notification, tapping a button, reading some lovely content and generally feeling good about life.

Simple users

The goals may also be slightly more advanced to understand with multiple tasks required to achieve success; entering their personal details into a rigid form, traversing a checkout process fraught with financial terms and socially sharing their experience with fellow citizens.

Whatever the goals, you’ll certainly want users to stay on target with zen-like concentration and reach your end goal where a happy place awaits their arrival.

Zen-like concentration: stay on target

##Your UX theory of everything

To map these goals, you’ve already researched to understand your user needs, identified key personas, created simple user flows and crafted a gorgeous interface for users to navigate your beautiful experience. Upon explaining your flow, it just all seems so simple:

Your UX theory of everything

So, you take your time, develop everything up and release your duckling into the wild to play with real live users. Then you see this happening:

What actually happens

It’s difficult to predict how users will behave in real life. Also, with so many other noisy things in the user’s immediate environment all demanding attention at the same time, it’s even more difficult to keep a user’s attention to the task at hand.

Sad faces are made, funnels are destroyed, stakeholders breathe a collective depressed sigh and you shed a single tear wondering why your users didn’t behave exactly as you wanted them to do:

  • “Users aren’t doing exactly the thing that I expected.”
  • “This is a UX fail.”
  • “Why can’t you just herd all of the cats?”

Users did not stay on target

And sure, the usability theory of everything states that you could undergo a rigorous bout of lab testing, lengthy usability studies and intense repeated evaluations to help you on your way towards the perfect user experience. However, they’re damn expensive. Oh, also, your users need this launched right now.

With the time it takes you to organise, fund, execute and analyse these results you may be seeing your budget, spare time and user loyalty simply evaporate into thin air.

Goodbye budget, time and sanity

##So what the hell?

Much like indignant cats, your users will do whatever the hell they want to do anyway - which is okay.

To ensure that you create simple user journeys which result in users achieving their goals, there’s a few key themes that you can employ right up-front to your customer’s experience which are likely to be right. With this groundwork in place, it means that you can constantly test, improve, iterate and massage that journey into a comfortable slide towards a happy place.

Not a cat

##Hold their focus Guess what? Whilst there’s many who claim to be elite multi-taskers, your brain can really only consciously do a single thing at a time; it needs to focus on the task at hand.

That focus will inevitably move back and forth from one thing to another, and we all have varying abilities to hold these flutters of activity together into a tangible conscious stream, aka our attention. In order to hold a user’s attention before they flit away to another task, we can use various methods in order to hold a user’s attention and keep them engaged in what they’re doing.

##Engage them with contrast and colour

Using simple visual design to draw a user’s eye towards their intended goal is the most simple way to alert a user where they should be travelling. If they have to think too hard about what you want them to do, then you’ve already missed the point of capturing their attention.

Using high-contrast colours, legible text and a clear differentiation from your body text will allow users to quickly see your main Call To Action and mentally map the next step in their journey. Use contrast

##Harness motion, surprise and novelty In the internet’s early frontier days of design, Benway and Lane coined the term of Banner Blindness (pdf) way back in 1998 whilst performing website usability evaluations. Even during the early dawn of modern online advertising, they discovered that users rapidly switched off to generic banners ads, allowing them to concentrate on the content only.

This was proven even to the point that users would completely ignore entire design elements that could remotely resemble advertisements. As the web has matured, users have become accustomed to mentally dismissing standard advertising areas within websites where generic advertising materials appear, meaning that there are giant slabs of web design will never be seen!

Banner Blindness Nielsen Norman’s early tracking results showing Banner Blindness

Whilst you’re not shoving generic advertisements in your user’s faces, you need to defeat their pesky banner blindness turning them off from your beautifully crafted design elements. Using transitions and carefully planned animations can assist with helping your users to direct their attention towards a particular section of your interface.

Wiggle animation

However, be sparing in these terms or you’ll soon find your users suffering from banner blindness towards your beautiful motion designs. And please, keep quiet. Don’t be that interface who works surprising audio (aka generic rubbish) into your navigation hierarchy, as you’ll quickly find your loving customers with a sour face racing for the close button.

##Let them tune back in

It’s inevitable that your users are going to switch their attention away at some point during the user journey. Allowing your user to lose context of what they were doing is dangerous; especially when your customer experience requires multiple touch-points.

Let’s get scientific.

Science!

There’s a region of your brain named the Reticular Activating System, or RAS. Historically, your RAS allows you to direct your attention to things which your body deemed to be essential to maintaining life, allowing us to survive by filtering out what’s not important. RAS is involved in very simple functions such as the difference between being asleep or awake, between a background noise or a threat. But more importantly in such a day of digital bombardment, it provides us with our own customisable filter to sort out the trash and focus our attention towards certain stimuli.

As we’re bombarded by repeated novel experiences, loud dominating media and all other interfaces using the above few methods of contrast, colour, novelty and motion, our shortened attention spans crave the familiarity of consistency within an interface:

Consistency in your interface

So, when your user tunes back into your interface after being distracted by a phone call, a cat’s meow or another tab playing awful audio cues, you can totally skip the learning curve of having them to relearn your new interface by providing them with something familiar.

In simplistic terms, ensuring that you have a shallow navigation structure, recognisable content elements and allowing your interface to snap responsively to their device will go a long way in ensuring that your users know what to do upon first glance.

Responsive goodness

##Now, watch what they’re doing UX labs are expensive to run. Sure, it’s a fun semi-voyeuristic UX task to peer at your participants and victims through one-way glass, however the best place to observe your beautiful flock of users is out there in their natural environment.

We use FullStory here at Buyapowa to give insight to our users’ behaviour, which is a beautiful way to see how our interfaces are behaving out in the wild. It allows us to observe our users navigating the journey, sharing content, making beautiful decisions and beautiful mistakes, which can make us react without leaving the comfort of our office radiators.

####Sometimes your users will happily play with your interface: User playing with interface

####You may observe them having troubles controlling their device: User having trouble with their device

####Whereas others… just don’t make much sense at all: A user doing.... what?

Just remember - that’s okay! Your users are going to do whatever they want to do anyway. Allow them to explore, to learn, to be distracted by a phone call, by the awkward way they’re holding their phone, or another app demanding their attention.

The main tool in your arsenal is logical design, pointing users in the right direction using friendly and familiar signposts along the road; don’t design an entire labyrinth of experiences, otherwise you’re suffocating users instead of giving them the air to breathe.

If a UX designer wants to design everything a user can experience, they miss the point of attention. UX isn’t about creating a perfect world. It’s about eliminating everything that competes with our goals and user goals. Good UX is reductive, not expansive.” #####— Joel Marsh: The Hipper Element