November 27, 2009 | Category: Uncategorized

Focus Attention

Every Monday several online retailers that I’ve previously used tell me about their one-day only sales. That’s fine by itself, they can try and sell me things if they like; I can always ignore them or block them if I don’t like what I’m getting.

One of these retailers in particular used to be very focused. As I only ever bought gaming-related items from them, they would send me only gaming related materials. To me, that’s the right way of marketing your wares: have a think about what the user actually wants and see if you’re right. For a good while, they had my attention. Given the focus they had put on their emails, I’d usually go and look at the games they had on sale.

Lately, though, it’s been a lot less focused. When I click through onto their website, I no longer have the option of looking at just the items on sale that relate to my interests (in this case, the games on consoles I own). No, instead, they have all the items dumped into 30-odd item pages, with around 6 pages. To me, this is exactly the wrong way of marketing your wares: you’ve gotten my attention and then blown it by expecting me to scour through several pages worth of things I’m not interested in, for one or two things I may be interested in. I may see the first page, but it becomes increasingly unlikely I’ll go any deeper.

This is a pretty common problem: forcing users to do work to find the information they want. While you can prompt them to look at some things YOU want them to see, you can’t divert their focus from the things THEY want to see. Instead, as designers, we should be enabling them to find the things they want, to slice and dice their view of the data you’re handing them however they like. If that means categorisation, fine. If that means building a good search function, then do it.

Failure to focus attention is failure to design. If you haven’t done a good job of designing your information flow then users will begin to dislike your system without realising why. At that point, you’ve lost their attention.