George Eastman House / Flickr

How designers control your mind through your eyes

Your eyes motivate your behavior, and great designers know how to capitalize on this 

What is the last thing you saw? Yes just now, online or offline, what was it? For many, this is difficult to answer. Taking in billions of pieces of information every second through our eyes, we must push 99.9% of it back out to the world, right? Wrong, it influences our subconscious as do the sounds, smells, tastes, and touch points you are experiencing this very second—sitting in your chair or hovering in space fancying some Medium.

So why is sight so important for designers to manipulate? Because it is the single most influential, and accessible sense we can have partial control over.

It’s our job to stretch your inch of attention into a mile of retention.

Tompkins Sq. Park — George Eastman Collection (Flickr)

Your eyes set expectations

Judging a book by its cover is not only unfair, but natural. We are made to categorize what we see into subcategories of past experiences. This helps us make educated guesses as how to survive in the wild. But no longer are we in the wild; we are in a tamed and curated world. This is where designers take action.

The first, and most important ways you determine the quality and usefulness of a website:

  1. Color = emotion, personality, attitude, tone, trust
  2. Font = complexity to understand, scan-ability, personality
  3. Navigation = orientation, immediate comfort factor


This is the strongest factor for attracting a user. I am not going to go into what each color represents for the American culture, since several articles on the web do that better than I could, especially this one. There is a reason behind every color choice (even CNN understands color moods).


Your brain calculates the readability of the text, not only through the complexity of your vocabulary (Flesch-Kincaid Readability Formula), which there are online calculators for, but also by the ease of taking in the shapes of the letters.

“If people have trouble reading the font, they will transfer that feeling of difficulty to the meaning of the text itself and decide that the subject of the text is hard to do or understand.” — 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People

So smart designers choose fonts with a large x-heights to get you to enjoy reading it more. And if the site has long-form text for the majority of the content (such as Medium), the designers consider a serif font for the body copy to let you have a more natural/comfortable read, allowing users to accept giving up longer durations of their attention.


Many websites have complicated or totally new ways of navigating through them. These are made to be creative, and not made for ease-of-use. Imagine walking into your house and the walls are horizontal, the doorways shortened, and… you know the rest. Spend just a few seconds walking through and you’re already lost in an scary, unpredictable place with no clear way to move around. Good designers keep you on the site by giving you a powerful sense of control when navigating. Without control, people feel uncomfortable. A designer’s job is to not dis-orient you with unheard of navigation schemes (unless they can prove it works).

Summing up “expectations”

Your mind judges, immediately, on first time experiences, before you know the whole story. Designers use their creative arsenal to make sure your first (and most important) experience on a website makes you stay.

Herbert George Ponting and telephoto apparatus, Antarctica, January 1912 — George Eastman House Collection (Flickr)

Designers make you feel smarter

Designers present information visually; they use our visual and spatial abilities to teach us things that we cannot learn easily from verbal language. This grants them the power to manipulate our deeper feelings and, therefore, behaviors.

People like to feel that they are learning and mastering new knowledge and skills. A visually simple, and understandable interface that you grasp quickly makes you feel good about yourself (even if it’s in the smallest of ways). You trust that you can use the website or application easily, which makes you trust the product more.

Although most people read faster if a text-block’s line length is around 100 characters long, designers know that most people prefer a shorter line length (45-72 characters). So they shorten it to retain your gaze by helping you read slower, but more comfortably. Medium’s line length for the largest size screen is approximately 72 characters.

People learn best by example

Designers show you what to do by using photos or videos. They can highly influence your behavior if you are shown videos of someone else doing the task that they want you to do.

  1. Acceptance = knowing others have performed this action
  2. Hidden Instructions = hiding the directions within the emotionally compelling product/pro-cause video
  3. False self-accomplishments = feeling the “intuitiveness” of a product, but actually knowing how to use it from previous instructions


Acceptance is not being like everyone else, it is being accepted for being a certain way; it’s just easier to be accepted if you do what others are doing. As a child witnessing a violent act, so is everyone to a compelling video that uses people. When you are shown others doing something, it imprints on you (your very first experience with it, connected with emotions) with a sense that somewhere in the world, these actions or ideologies are accepted. A designer uses inspiring, creative, funny, and even sexy videos, imagery, and copywriting to make your first experience positive and, most of all, memorable.

Hidden Instructions

Viewing a well made product video not only pitches you to buy it, but it directly teaches you how to use it’s core functionality; also spicy “hidden” features are mixed in. An example is the iPad’s debut T.V. advertisement. It takes you through about 4 features in about the first 15 seconds (zoom with two fingers to expand photo albums, turn to landscape, double tap to zoom in on an element in Safari, turn pages in iBooks instead of scrolling).

False self-accomplishment

To relate back to Apple, they construct each advertisement to teach you how to use the product, so by the time you buy one, you feel like “you already know how to use it,” because you do. This makes you feel smart because you can use it without hassle; so you’re now confident that you made the right choice of buying it. There is no denying that products such as the iPad are designed to be as easy to learn as possible, but their advertisements are designed to make sure of it.

The last thing a company wants is to sell a product that you regret buying. They design it so that you show off the features to your friends, so that you become their best marketer.

Summing up “feeling smarter”

A designer’s job is to make you feel in control of the product. And from the marketing to specific user-interface actions, they teach you how to easily use the product. As long as you feel that it’s you who made the best choice of buying it, it’s you who is smart enough to use it, and it’s you who can show how intuitive it is to friends—then the designer has succeeded.

George Eastman House Collection (Flickr)

Your mind follows your eyes

For most, our eyes give our brain the first information used to assess something. So designers understand that your first inch of attention needs to be curated. You look at big buttons, contrasting colors, moving objects, etc. The first thing you notice on a website is the first thing for a reason, it’s what the designer wants you to look at.

“Sign up free!” — “30 Day free trial!” — “Add to Cart”

They want your money, your attention, your click. And they get it. If you are filtering out information, they use color, size, animation, video, and sound to draw your attention to what’s important, or what they want you to know/how they want you to behave.

The most obvious parts of a design are the salient clues (the details/attributes needed for the task at hand). The “call-to-action.”

Summing up “your mind follows your eyes”

Your eyes only look for what’s there, your mind follows suit. Your eyes trump your mind by limiting it’s main input to what is currently and firstly available. So designers make sure the first thing you notice is the thing they want you to see.

Summing up “everything”

Designers love what they do because they can control, to the best of their ability, your experience with a brand. They solve problems, they study people’s behaviors, and they stress over your experiences with their products/brands. Your first time experience with a product is not the only factor you use to judge it, but it will always be there in your mind, consciously or sub-consciously. These sub-conscious feelings drive the majority of your behavior; so they are crucial for a designer to control.

The information in this article is not guesswork, and it is (by far) not everything there is in regards to design. I am a designer, an entrepreneur, a storyteller, and want to become much more. I wrote this to express, in detail, a few important aspects of the responsibilities of a designer. Design can be used for the better or worse, and the techniques above (among many others) are used by the best designers. Thank you for reading, and I hope this has opened your eyes.