Lead With Eyes

Icon thx Vicons Design via nounproject
Icon thx Vicons Design via nounproject

In a middle school Media Literacy class I remember learning about how print ads direct your attention. I learned about how the entire page was pointing to the product, to entice you to buy it.

thx Classic Films via Flickr
thx Classic Films via Flickr

How devious, and how clever! I was amazed that by positioning actors and actresses and cigarettes and roasting sticks in a particular way, they could make me want to buy their cigarettes! (It didn’t work).

Advertisers know that we like to look where other people (even if they’re actresses on a page) are looking.

I also remember duck hunting with my dad. Once we were sneaking down a trail to surprise some unsuspecting birds in a creek. When we were mere meters away, a truck rumbled down the trail. More hunters!

My dad told me to look out into the field on the opposite side of the creek, away from the ducks. Sure enough, the intruders rumbled right past the ducks, craning their necks to see what in that field was so fascinating to us.

We’re drawn to eyes, and want to see what others are seeing. We can use this insight to help users navigate our websites as well.

Learning from kids apps

Lately I’ve been studying apps directed at preschool kids. The trick with apps for kids is that help text, notes, and tool tips are useless for little people who can’t read yet. Kids apps are forced to use other techniques to show kids what to do next.

And because grown-ups don’t like reading either, maybe we can use these same techniques for grown-up apps!

1. Minimize options.
If there’s only one button to tap, kids will tap the right button! The Lickety Split timer app (essential for bedtimes) keeps their interface simple, and kids understand it.

Lickety split app.
Lickety split app.

2. Use pictures.
Pictures (accompanied by text) can be easier to recognize than text alone. Lickety Split does this well as well.

Lickety Split app.
Lickety Split app.

3. And yes, lead them with eyes.

You can imagine my delight when I came across Toca Boca’s Kitchen Monsters app. When the game starts, you’ll find the monster eyeing the fridge. Guess where kids will start when they’re figuring out the game? That’s right, the fridge.

Toca Boca's Monsters Kitchen. Notice the eyes?
Toca Boca’s Monsters Kitchen. Notice the eyes?

On a philosophical/parenting note, kids seem to pick up on where their parents are looking too. How are you leading your kids?

Lead them with eyes

Next time you’re designing a layout, think about how a preschooler would approach your design. Would they intuitively know what to do next, or does your layout rely on clunky help text to aid the user?

Chances are, if a preschooler won’t read it, grown-ups will gloss over it as well.