The 8-second in UX

There is a very good chance that many of you will never reach the end of this article (as great as the content might be :P).

This is because in the year 2015, Microsoft published a report which told the world about how the average attention span of humans had dropped from 12 seconds to 8 seconds. 8 seconds! This is 2 seconds less than the attention span of a goldfish, which means that even GOLDFISHES have a better attention span than we do.

Humans vs Goldfishes

In our defence, goldfishes don’t have as many distractions in their lives as we do. The biggest distraction comes in the form of a smartphone. According to another study, an average American checks their 80 times a day, which is once approximately once every 12 minutes.

Think about how often you check your phone. It is so difficult to complete a task at hand without checking that ping your phone made, refreshing your Instagram or Googling up a random question you just NEED an answer to right away.

Not just online, the multi-tasking feature on our smartphones was developed so that users could use multiple applications simultaneously without losing context on any one of them.

Even without technology to deviate us from our work, there are plenty stimuli. Getting lost in thought and conversation being most common. ‘Zoning out’ or ‘Drifting in thought’ are terms coined specifically for these phenomenons.

So, what can we do as designers to satiate this need for humans to consume content faster than they can process it?

  1. Visuals over text —

Owing to their short attention span, users never completely read the text that is in front of them. They are quicker and more at ease to consume information presented to them in a visual form. This is the reason why podcasts and TED talks have millions of views, but books about similar topics don’t sell as much.

The success of ‘Vine’, a platform to share six-second long videos was a result of users’ short attention span and a preference for content that is visual rather than textual.

To reduce the cognitive load for the user, text should be replaced with relevant infographics and illustrations wherever possible.

Infographics — Easier to consume

There are instances where text cannot be replaced. In such situations, it is important to keep the content brief and crisp so that users can quickly skim through it and register what is necessary to carry out certain tasks or actions. What helps further is highlighting key words that need to draw the user’s attention.

2. Don’t test my patience —

In the 8 second era, websites and applications need to engage the user every second of the experience. Making the user wait when they intend to perform an action is asking for them to get distracted.

A study showed that a ONE second lag in Amazon’s run time could cost them $1.6 billion in sales.

While us designers should always try keep the applications or the websites we design light so that it functions fast, sometimes lag is inevitable.

To deal with slow systems, designers should work on making the wait a lot more entertaining.

This could be done in the form of a captivating loader, if the wait is relatively short or go the Chrome way in case of a longer waiting period. Google Chrome introduced the not-so-intuitive game when a page won’t load, managing to capture the user’s attention by using it as their distraction.

Delightful loaders can work wonders

(Using micro-interactions to our advantage is explained in this article)

3. Always have an on-boarding –

Users have an exceptionally tough time navigating through a system that they’re using for the very first time. It takes time for them to get used to the system they’re using, to identify journeys that are more important for them and identify the actions they’d need to take to complete them.

This process of finding their way around a new application is a rite of passage that is inevitable for every user.

To get them comfortable with the system and establish a certain level of trust, designing an on-boarding process is essential.

Coach-marks are essential in the on-boarding process

Though plenty users tend to skip an on-boarding process, there are several others who want external assistance to give them an overview. Including an on-boarding process that is delightful, explanatory and brief will capture the attention of the users as well as set the context for further actions.

4. Less is more

To keep the user involved at all times, it is important to keep everything in the application crisp. Minimalistic design and content help draw the attention of the user to only the information that is necessary. It eliminates the need for them to skim through the page and move ahead directly with their journey.

Designers should highlight the primary actions of their application well enough for them to be the only highlight for the target user. Hiding unnecessary data and having a cleaner UI is another step towards minimalism.

Just remember, when designing to hold onto the user’s attention and to keep them engaged, KISS — Keep It Simple Silly.


The 8-second rule was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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