Focus on Wireframing. Focus on Attention.

Have you ever been wondering why is PIN to your credit card so short? Is it safe enough? Wouldn’t it be better to have more than 4 digits to protect your money? Or why is it illegal in some countries to talk on the phone while driving a car? Well, there’s a good reason for that and surprisingly the same one explains why wireframing is so crucial to UX. That reason is attention — one of the most important cognitive processes.

Attention! There’s an Attention Limit

People very often don’t realise that there is a general limit on human capacity to perform mental work. We live in the era that put us all in information overload. We have easy access to everything, which is good, but also tricky. There are too many opportunities, too many interesting things seducing us every day. But such availability may be frustrating if we don’t know which way to go? What to choose? Attention is the thing that help us every day to make right decisions. Attention is responsible for focusing our mental resources only on important things because we cannot process every bit of information. One of those things is a code to your credit card. Imagine standing in front of the cashpoint, trying to withdraw some money. Would it be possible to recall number of your bank account? Probably not, but 4 digits don’t seem like a problem. What if you’re driving a car in an unknown city and you’re trying to understand your accountant talking about taxes? It’s likely that you won’t remember much from this conversation or… Ok, let’s stop here.

Working Memory: Your Needs and Goals Is All That Works

The amount of information that can be processed by people’s, so called, working memory is very little. The most common theory says that it is approximately 7 (+/- 2) chunks of information at a time. It is known as magical number seven or Miller’s number and it defines the capacity of working memory. What is this working memory? It’s a short-term mental storage that performs different kind of mental operations on every single bit of information, called chunk. Which information will be processed depends on our temporary needs. And here is when attention steps on the stage. It scans the environment and seeks for those things that are important in terms of achieving a particular goal. Focusing on this particular goal means that our attention resists different kind of distractions that are not processed in our working memory. You won’t probably notice an old woman with a small dog passing by while you’re trying to type your PIN. But while driving a car you’ll see the same old woman suddenly entering a crossroads and most likely you’ll remember her as irresponsible, selfish old lady with the spoilt, irritating dog.

Model of attention and working memory

No matter if the goal is to withdraw money, reach some destination or buy something in an online shop. We’re all focusing only on those elements that can either help us or impede our efforts. We remember them better, because we process and assess them in terms of our needs. That is why it is important to create wireframes in the UX design process and to show „chunks” that are useful for users.

Wireframes: Sketch, Show, Fullfil the Goal

Wireframe is a skeleton of a website that represents the arrangement of a page content. While wireframing, you don’t focus on details, it’s the overall arrangement that matters. The idea is to arrange all the elements in a way that is best to accomplish a particular goal. It is crucial to remember what your users’ needs are and show them, as quickly as possible, those parts they will be looking for in order to fulfil those needs. Why is it so? Being able to achieve a goal is rewarding and plesurable. Your users will be thankful that you gave them a hand, they will like you and they will likely come back to you.

Wireframing gives an opportunity to check your ideas on an early stage. Before you start designing, show your sketches to potential users and ask them if they are able to find all necessary information in 10 seconds. If not — come up with another idea for your website. But first, ask your users what information they were looking for and why they didn’t find them quickly.

This is the cheapest and quickest way of user testing. But remember about one thing — don’t give your test users more time. 10 seconds should be enough to find crucial information on your site. Browsing the Internet very often comes along with multitasking, which means your users have many different goals and not much time to fulfil them. If they don’t find your site as a solution to their problems, they’ll leave.

Help Me or Be Forgotten

Providing that there’s no other thing that may distract people’s attention they are able to remember small amount of information for 20 seconds. Then the information is either put forward to long-term memory or forgotten forever. So think twice, whenever you design something and make sure it is as intuitive and usable as possible.