What is our visual system good at?

We don’t notice all elements of our environment equally. Take for example the video below.

This video is a wonderful example of a what psychologists call “change blindness.” Here is another example for fun:

In these situations, we focus our attention on what is interesting to us then we do not perceive changes in our world that we didn’t expect. Further, we are less likely to see changes that don’t normally happen in everyday life.

You may think you would clearly see the changes in the videos. However, try to remember a time where you were having a great conversation in the car, either on the phone or with a passenger. Now try to remember a billboard or sign that you saw during that talk. The odds are that you can’t remember and likely never “perceived” any signs even though you might have looked in the direction of a sign. When we focus our minds on something absorbing, then we tend to neglect less relevant information.

Of interest to designers and artists is that not all information is equally captivating to our eyes. Our eyes have evolved to notice particularly pertinent information in our environment. Below is a list of ways that you can represent information. Methods that are higher on the list are more salient for our visual system and therefore more effective.


Visual techniques, Munzner (2014)

Munzner, T. (2014). Visualization Analysis and Design. CRC Press.

Visualizations scientists suggest that you should take the most important information that you want to communicate and present that information what the most effective display method.

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