CHAPTER 1

How humans (almost) universally perceive

PART 1: Perception principles

The first step in designing for your audience and its needs is to find out what makes people alike. How do most humans—those with normally functioning eyes and brains—perceive and comprehend information? Basic principles of cognitive psychology apply. Perhaps chief among them is our selective attention.

“The mind is not a camera,” writes Stephen Kosslyn in his book Graph Design for the Eye and Mind. Although the camera captures everything within its frame, the mind captures only what it chooses to, especially in a crowded “frame” or scene. So what any two minds choose to capture in a given scene will vary. But you can learn to predict and, to an extent, control what they view in the “scenes” you design if you create and arrange their elements in line with inherent human behavior:

We humans look for and recognize patterns, and we expect them to mean something. We also notice interruptions in pattern, and expect those to mean something different from the consistent elements. We see what's bigger, bolder, or brighter as more important than what's smaller, lighter, or duller. And we look for order and unity, even trying to impose them where they don't exist. Anything that lacks order in visual displays tends to make us uncomfortable. So we mentally group individual parts to form a whole. (You might say we seek relationships among visual elements in much the same way as we seek relationships with other ...

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