Attention Economy and Web Design

/ Published 08 September 2021
f you ever suspect your attention span is dwindling, you are not imagining it. In fact, the stats on dwindling attention are everywhere. Various new research has accurately proven that human beings today have the shortest attention spans there have ever been. 
 
One such write-up suggested that the average human attention span shrunk by a quarter within the last 15 years. While this statement does not mean much as it is, the interpretation of it says a lot. Our attention span now lags behind that of a goldfish. 
 
Our attention span was 12 seconds in the 2000s; this dropped to 8.25 seconds in 2015. To put this in perspective, a goldfish has an attention span of 9 seconds
This brings about the concept of the attention economy. 
 

Attention Economy

From socialising to business to entertainment, the internet has completely changed how we live our lives. It has essentially put an enormous amount of information in our hands. 
 
With smartphones and other internet-enabled gadgets in virtually everyone's pocket, access to information is quick and affordable. 
 
Before looking at the attention economy, let's break down attention. 
 
Attention is defined as a selective focus on stimuli that one is currently receiving while ignoring other stimuli from one's internal and external environments. For example, if watching a clip, being attentive would require you to focus entirely on the clip and nothing else going on around you. 
 
Herbert Simon, among the pioneers of the attention economy, describes it as below:
 
‘’’’…in an information-rich world, the wealth of information means a dearth of something else; a scarcity of whatever it is that information consumes. What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of the information sources that might consume it ‘’’’
 
In essence, information takes up attention. Therefore, the more information there is, the wider the attention deficit. 
What this tells us is that attention is extremely valuable in the digital age. The term ‘pay attention’ actually alludes to the fact that attention is both limited and valuable. Whenever a person gives their attention to one thing, they withhold it from one or more things. 
 
While theorists in human attention agree that attention is limited, you might wonder about multitasking. Multitasking, or handling more than one thing at a time, was thought of as a positive attribute to have for a long time. Well, it seems to have lost its shine in recent years. While you can actually attend to two tasks simultaneously, neither gets 100% of your attention. Principally this means you will miss out on certain aspects of some, if not all, activities. 
 
Take watching a show and being on social media. While you can run both simultaneously, you are unlikely to hear and observe all details of the show as you would if you only concentrated on the show. 
How does any of this impact marketing?
 

Attention Economy and Web Design

Can dwindling attention spans stifle your marketing initiatives? Absolutely!
 
Marketers are always alive to the fact that they are competing with other players in their industry. This competition is seen in product development, pricing, and marketing. 
 
However, marketers in this age have another competitor to watch out for. Aside from their competition, all other businesses with messages on the internet are competing for attention from the same cluster of people.
 
You now need to communicate or sell to people who can only give you 8.25 seconds of attention before moving on to something else. Not an easy task, but it’s doable. 
 

Ways To Ensure Your Web Design Is Not Overlooked

You need to keep in mind that your audience lacks time to read through your content. 
To incentivise your audience to pay attention to your content;
 

1. Embrace The KISS Principle

While the jury is still out on what converts more between long and short content, the KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid) principle is indisputable. 
 
If you want to drive good ROI, clear, simple content will always come out on top. Simple ways to do this include:
 
Highlighting vital keywords
Using bullets to make points stand out
Using subheadings to break down the text
Focusing on a single idea for each paragraph
 

2. Accessibility Is Just As Important

As you plan your content strategy, be careful not to ignore the technical aspects of web design. 
In fact, web accessibility is arguably the most important part of your strategy. This is true for two reasons. 
The first is that without accessibility, your content strategy will never see the light of day. 
 
Secondly, research tells us that a one-second delay costs you 7% in conversions. You churn 40% of users if your site takes more than three seconds to load. 
 

3. Use graphics, Photos, and Texts

Your audience would rather look at photos, graphics, and videos rather than read blocks of texts. 
And more than just about communication preferences. For example, the brain is known to process images 60,000 times faster than it does text. 
If these have colour, even better. Studies have shown that colour increases recall, comprehension enhances readership, and increases brand recognition significantly. 
 

4. Minimise User Experience Degradation

If anything, the dynamics of the attention economy should increasingly incentivise you to think about strategies to draw users and encourage them to linger on your site. 
The strategies used should be picked carefully so as not to end up with design pitfalls that will achieve the opposite. Some of these include:
 
Overdone animations geared at getting attention
Too much information at once. This can include both text and images. With an improper balance, these can yield a busy, unsightly  page that will encourage visitors to drop off
Sites with frequent notifications that users cannot opt-out of
 

Summary

While some aspects of the digital economy will remain true for years to come. Web designers will have to think about balance in their design decisions. 
With a good balance between business needs and user experiences, you will be able to get your messages across-even with the goldfish attention span. 
 

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