Peripheral Vision & Design Interaction

Have you ever wondered why notifications, alerts are usually on top right corner of your screen, Open chat box on the bottom right and why it blinks every time there is a new message, and why News feeds, Posts, Videos are populated in the centre and not in corners?

Incident

I was travelling from Pondycherry to Chennai; Its a 4 hrs long journey with heaven on either side of the highway surrounded with Beaches, Forest, Fields, Lakes, etc., Mostly everyone drives at the speed of 65+ kmph crossing multiple junctions which are connected to tiny villages nearby; and these junctions are more prone to accidents. Slowing down the vehicles would be impossible with signal lights and road signs but TamilNadu police department had an interesting way of dealing with this.

I was driving my bike focusing on this beautiful highway, enjoying the smell of green from the woods. At a visible distance I saw a deserted junction, it was empty so I continued to drive my vehicle at the same speed of 70 kmph; as I was nearing it… from the corner of my eyes I noticed another vehicle. I was startled to see it approaching from the perpendicular road at the same speed I was travelling (at that very moment in my head.. I heard my Physics teacher’s voice saying “Newton sends his regards”). As soon as I realised that I was about to collide with this other vehicle I hit the breaks and my vehicle slowed down from 70 to somewhere around 35-45; only then I noticed that it was not a vehicle but a mirror kept at an angle that the driver sees his own reflection and slows down the vehicle at the junction. Pretty smart isn’t it?

This beautiful Obtrusive design of TNPD has prevented me from getting into a potential accident (error prevention), It alerted and warned me about the speed that I was travelling in and brought me back to consciousness.

Behavioural Analysis

Now how it works is quite interesting. While I was driving my focus was on the road forward. When we focus on something while doing a task it is called Visual Fixation. The area other than the area of Visual Fixation is know as Peripheral Vision. Peripheral Vision is very sensitive compared to Visual Fixation because it constantly scans for Warnings, Dangers, Alerts without our consciousness. As soon as it perceives something fishy it makes our mind react and take action on it immediately. It is an evolutionary behaviour that is coded in our DNA as a result of our survival instinct.

Human behaviour and Design

You can find a mimicry of this phenomenon on platforms like Facebook, Linked in, Instagram, Youtube. Where your visual fixation is on the main content like News feeds, Posts, Videos, Updates, etc,. which may or may not be important but it keeps you glued to the system. Information which requires your immediate attention like Notification, Chat box, Stories are kept on the Peripheral area which is basically corners (Top right, Bottom right, Right extreme) of the screen, so that it pursues you to take action on it. The more senses an “Alert” addresses… the better and faster it registers; Like phone’s vibration when you receive a notification or a sound you hear whenever you receive a new message. I’m more eager to see these traits put to action appropriately in Domains like Gaming, AR/VR/MR.

It’s not just the behavioural factor — Accessibility, Ease of use, Navigation play an important role when it comes to usability of a design. Next time when we put that tiny notification icon on the corner of the header we’ll know why we’re doing it, we’ll know its purpose.