(Guest Blog Series) “Change Blindness” in UX

Source: Freepick illustration ’cause I got lazy

There is a strong discrepancy between the amount of information being transmitted and the amount of information our brains have the capacity to process.

I have always been fascinated by the way the human brain works and I also think that being familiar with cognitive science is a key skill of any designer. In the digital world, there is a huge number of websites, apps, articles, and advertisements trying to get our attention.

People are programmed to focus their attention on anything that is different or new.

As you are reading this article, there are numerous sensations, sights, and sounds going around you. The traffic sounds, other people talking around you, the warmth of the room or maybe the memory of a conversation you had earlier today.

So, depending on your ability to focus, the brain can induce a specific blindness that makes you miss the changes happening in your visual field.

In one experiment, participants were shown an image that was changed during a brief blank interval in the visual scene. The researchers found that when there is a brief break in the visual scene, people find it more difficult to detect changes. This is called Change Blindness.

Change Blindness is a common phenomenon in the digital world, where visual elements can appear and disappear or change their label almost instantaneously. For example, observers often fail to notice major differences introduced into an image while it flickers off and on again, like a page that refreshes. In many cases, the changes in the visual seem so big, that they seem impossible to miss. Yet when attention is directed elsewhere, people are capable of missing both minor and major changes that take place right in front of them.

Change Blindness is rooted in the human brain’s instinctual ability to filter out unnecessary information and stimuli. Basically, any time a new visual element is introduced to an existing display, it is at risk of being ignored.

Here is a popular example about how Change Blindness works, on the Vans.com mobile website. If a visitor selects a size that is not available, the label of the “Add to Cart” button changes to say “Out of Stock”. This slight, but important, change in the label doesn’t stand out, when the rest of the display stays the same.

Source: the Holy Google.

This is happening because:

  • One: the user’s attention is focused here on the Size and Quantity fields;
  • Two: The “Out of Stock” label was overlooked because it looked too much like the “Add to Cart” label, and was too far from the user’s attention was focused;

Although the design is perceived by our senses (vision, touch, hearing), it is immediately processed by our brain. As designers, we have the power to guide the human mind during and even beyond the interaction with the product by using some key steps in our design process:

  1. Make your page easy to scan

Remove clutter and make the page as easy as possible for your user to achieve their desired outcome, rather than trying to find actions or buttons. An important part of the design is making it highly usable for the targeted users and allowing for extra functionality to be discovered as it is needed. This will help you fight the change blindness and will help you increase the conversion rate.

2. Minimize visual interruptions

Avoid page refreshes whenever possible. This will cause an Interruption in the user’s visual perception and lead to an unnecessary shift in their attention.

3. Provide smooth, continuous feedback

Keep the users informed about what is going on within reasonable time, without leaving them wondering and waiting. You can do this through: loading bars, spinners, active state of a button, scroll flag, feedback sounds etc. Also, make sure the feedback is delivered in a natural place, where the user expects it, so it can be followed and understood.

4Use appropriate visual emphasis for significant new elements (such as contrast, size, and padding) to ensure they are noticeable. Use data from multiple sources to get a more accurate picture; combining the insights you gain from your experience and knowledge, your quantitative web analytics, and qualitative sources (like surveys, heat maps, sessions replays, or usability tests).

5. Rely more on Recognition rather than Recall

Minimize the user’s memory load by making actions, elements, and options visible. Therefore, the users won’t need to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily regained.

6Focus on Aesthetic and minimalist design

The less elements on the screen, the more potent the remaining ones are. Focus on using only relevant information and avoid every extra details or element that could be irrelevant and that will cause an unnecessary shift in user’s attention.

7Build products with Consistency and Standards

Make sure that the users won’t have to wonder whether different words, labels, colours, or actions mean the same thing.

8. Prevent errors

Try to either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and provide users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action. Even better than good error messages is a product that prevents a problem occurring in the first place. This will help you keep the users focused.

9. Use good contrast

Use tools to measure the contrast you are using. Low color contrast creates legibility problems. The basics of color contrast are easy to understand: a higher contrast between text color and the background color is better for legibility.

10. Mind the Typography and build a visual hierarchy

Typography has a huge effect on the Mood and attention of users and also, by using the right typography, we can improve the user engagement.

This is more than selecting fonts. It is the study of how humans read, perceive, how they recognise words and how the brain processes the information.

So why should anybody care about Change Blindness?

Change blindness is a one of the psychological phenomenon that affects user perception in this digital Universe. As designers, we have the power to control the human mind during and even beyond the interaction with the product and bring more value to the digital world by using our knowledge on the cognitive science and start improving the digital world.

Change blindness plays an important role in the way users understand and look at websites. It’s important to notice that people often fail to detect changes to a visual scene and why users don’t see what you think they actually should see. By being aware of this cognitive phenomenon and understanding how can avoid it can aid you creating your strategy in your design process.

(Guest Blog Series) This is why vulnerability helps you improve as a professional

“Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change” — Brené Brown

Each person has a different perception of what vulnerability means. Most of us associate it with weakness. This is mostly due to our upbringing, social background (race, education, lifestyle, gender, creed etc) or due to not knowing too much about this subject in general.

While indeed vulnerability involves a lot of exposure and risk, it is in no way the same thing as weakness. Now, we will explore what vulnerability means and showcase why being vulnerable can be beneficial for your career and personal growth.

The textbook definition of the term is: ‘vulnerability is the quality of being easily hurt or attacked’. The term is derived from the latin work ‘vulnus’ which means ‘wound’. This literal definition can be extended to the emotional area as well and imply a certain openness — if you are vulnerable, you might suffer.

But what if you can cultivate this emotion? What if this kind of exposure or being vulnerable is an untapped source of growth and learning?

Where would the world be if innovators shut down all vulnerability?

Thomas Edison

If Thomas Edison got discouraged after his many failed attempts to build the lightbulb (and many other patents) and after people telling him it’s pointless, we would have probably gotten this invention at a later time.

If Henry Ford quit after his first 2 car companies failed and he lost credibility from his investors and the public, the automobile industry would not be the same today.

If Elon Musk was afraid of public view and being exposed, he would not openly reveal his projects, only his successes. For example, he publicly announced when his Model X Tesla would start being manufactured. That term was delayed for 18 months. This is just one of the hits the magnate has taken, a full list is presented here. How much do all these failures affect him? Well, he’s worth 20 billion USD so I’d say they haven’t killed him yet.

But what does this have to do with vulnerability?

I’m sure that they did not necessarily think about vulnerability when they decided to keep going despite all the things they’ve been through, but this emotion is the core to understand why they did it.

The researcher Brené Brown says that tapping into the emotion of vulnerability opens up some new experiences which otherwise are not lived at their fullest. These experiences are love, trust, joy, and creativity. Vulnerability also means being engaged, being all in, and this is exactly what the people mentioned above were/are. They showed dedication and a strong belief in their work even when the circumstances were not encouraging.

When Musk was asked during an interview how he felt about his role models not supporting his ideas, he gave an emotional and genuine answer. This is what vulnerability is all about:

Despite the fact that people he admires most, don’t share the same vision, Musk is nowhere near giving up. His natural response is that he wishes to show them what he is doing and what he’s hoping to achieve and hopefully bring them to his side. That’s how strong his resolve is.

Examples of vulnerability which encourage growth

1. Creating and showcasing your creations: An example could be when you create a presentation or workshop about something you are passionate about (or anything for that matter) then deliver it without any guarantee of acceptance or appreciation or even that anyone would show up to see it.

2. Asking questions: Being afraid or ashamed to ask questions revolves around the sphere of vulnerability. If you do ask, you might be perceived as stupid or it means admitting that you don’t know anything about the subject at hand. If you don’t you’ll probably play along, act like everything is crystal clear and in fact leave with bigger gaps than the ones you started with. But, under no circumstance is asking a question a bad thing or something we should avoid.

3. Showing genuine appreciation: Vulnerability is to tell your colleague how much you appreciate his work and that he did a good job because you really feel that way and you mean it.

4. Giving/Receiving feedback: Vulnerability to put yourself out there and openly give someone feedback even if it’s not necessarily something good. Then being open to receiving the same kind of feedback.

5. Saying no: Many people have a problem with saying no at work or their personal lives. This is because we fear that by doing so, people will stop liking us and we lose part of our utility. Instead, saying yes all the time to all insignificant requests can disrupt our flow and render us less useful or productive at work. When the request is not necessarily beneficial for your growth, some alternatives to saying no could be openly explaining why you are not going to do it or offering them another solution.

6. Asking for help: By doing this, you openly admit that you were not able to solve an issue by yourself. Certain thoughts can arise that we might seem weak or that we are not as resourceful as we have people believe. The truth is that, by asking for help, besides getting a new perspective from others, you also save up time to invest in other activities. And people are generally really eager to help when they can. When you seek or offer help, a deeper level of appreciation and trust is created.

7. Accountability for your work: This means that you are responsible for all the work you do, successes and failures alike. It’s being able to take a compliment when it’s due but also owning up to your mistakes and being able to say ‘it is my fault‘ or ‘I’m partly to blame for this so let’s see what we can do so that it doesn’t happen again or how can we improve our process’.

8. Nurturing connection: Vulnerability encourages connection. The connection is starting to be more and more valued in the age of technology where we tend to only focus on our 9 to 5 where we do our part then go home. By allowing yourself to be vulnerable you open up to a greater level of connection which ultimately results in gaining trust.

9. Being adaptable: Adaptability to change is all about vulnerability. It implies that you let go of some beliefs and truths which you already know and adopt new truths. It’s taking into account that confirmation bias is real and it can affect every aspect of learning something new, especially in a field where we already have some kind of expertise. Adaptability also implies having the courage to take up learning a new thing, even if it’s hard and you might fail at first, but believing you will get it done.

10. Showing authenticity: This means being able to express who you really are, not who you think you should be depending on a certain situation. Authenticity generally leads to people’s appreciation, and with that, to gain their trust.

The bottom line is…

Whatever your conception was regarding vulnerability, it should not be seen as a weak spot.
Shutting this emotion down will not make you a better or a stronger version of yourself. It will only lead to a more limited and close-minded you.
So start with baby steps and gradually do some of the stuff I’ve mentioned above or something you’ve been putting off until now and see where it takes you professionally and personally.

Please let me know if you liked this article and more importantly what you didn’t like about it, and if it helped you in any way shape a new/ different perspective on the subject of vulnerability.

Thanks for reading!

On the 2018 Romanian Testing Conference

So, last week I had the pleasure of attending the 2018 edition of the Romanian Testing Conference. It was my second visit to Cluj: after having delivered a workshop at the conference last year I was invited to do another workshop for this year’s edition. I told Andrei, one of the organizers, that I would gladly accept if he:

  1. could schedule my workshop for the Thursday (Wednesday and Thursday were pre-conference workshops days, the conference itself was on the Friday), and
  2. would make it at least as good an event -and if possible, better- than last year.

Challenge mutually accepted!

During the time when the CFP was open, I sneakily submitted a proposal for a talk as well, and was quite surprised to see it accepted too. Yay! More work!

I left for Romania on Wednesday and arrived around 7 PM at the hotel Grand Italia, which again was both the place where the speakers had their rooms as well as the venue for the conference itself. I cannot stress how awesome it is to be able to pop in and out of your room before, during and after workshops and talks without having to go to another place. Need a rest? Go to your room. Forgot something? You’ll have retrieved it in minutes. Want to check if there’s anyone up for a chat and/or a drink? Just ride the elevator down.

Again, the organization went to great lengths to make us speakers and workshops hosts as comfortable as they could. Always someone around if you have questions, picking you up from and bringing you back to the airport in dedicated RTC cars (even at stupid o’clock), it is a wonderfully organized event.

Thursday – workshop day
Like last year, I hosted a workshop around API testing and automation. Where I only used REST Assured last year, I decided to give the participants a broader overview of tools by including some exercises with SoapUI, as well as a demo of Parasoft SOAtest, a commercially licensed API testing tool. Also, compared to last year, I threw in more background on the ‘why?’ and the ‘what?’ of API testing.

Me delivering my workshop

I had 30 participants (like all other workshops and the conference itself, it was sold out) and after a bumpy start, including a couple of power outages, we were off. Like with all workshops, it took me a little time to gauge the level of experience in the room and to adjust my pace accordingly, but I think I got it right pretty quickly. With several rounds of instructions > exercise > feedback, time was flying by! Breaks were plenty and before I knew it, the working part of the day was over.

We were invited to a wonderful speakers dinner in the hotel restaurant, which provided plenty of time and opportunity to catch up with those other speakers I met before, as well as to meet those that I hadn’t had the privilege to meet yet. After a day of teaching and all the impressions from dinner, I decided to be sensible and make it an early night. Mission failed, because once in my room it still took me hours to fall asleep. My brain just couldn’t shut off..

Friday – conference day
Friday morning came quickly and that meant conference day time! The programme was strong with this one.. So many good talks on the schedule. Yet, like with many conferences, I spent most of the day in the hallway track, preparing for my talk (I wasn’t on until 4 PM) as well as having a chat with speakers and attendees. For me, that’s often at least as valuable as the talks themselves.

Still, I saw three talks: first Angie Jones’ keynote (I met her a month earlier in Utrecht but had never seen her speak before), then Viktor Slavchev’s talk and finally Maria Kedemo’s keynote. All three were very good talks and I learned a lot from them, both in terms of the message they conveyed as well as their presentation style.

This day flew by too and before I knew it, it was time for my own talk. Now, I’m a decent workshop host (or so I’d like to think…) but I am not an experienced speaker, so doing a talk takes a lot out of me, both in terms of the time it takes to prepare as well as the energy I spend during the talk itself. Still, I was pretty pleased with how I did, and the feedback afterwards reflected that. Maybe I just need to do this more often…

Me during my talk

After the closing talk, which I skipped in favor of going outside, enjoying the beautiful weather and winding down, the conference was already over. To round it all off, we went out for a bite with some of the speakers before we attended the conference closing party. The organization had one final surprise in tow for me there when they gave me an award for the best workshop of the conference. Seeing the list of amazing workshops that they had on offer this year, I certainly did not expect that!

Since my flight back home left at an ungodly hour the next morning, I decided not to make it too long an evening (not everybody followed my example judging from my Twitter timeline the next morning..). Travels home were uneventful (which I consider a good thing) and suddenly, it was all over again.

My thoughts on this wonderful conference, the organization and the volunteers can be summarized by this tweet, I think:

Andrei Contan@andreicontan

Book the dates 8-10 May, 2019 for @RomaniaTesting by @ard_kramer

Bas Dijkstra@_basdijkstra

I encourage *anyone* in the software testing field to go to @RomaniaTesting at least once. You *will* be having an awesome time.

See Bas Dijkstra’s other Tweets

So, did the organization deliver? Well, I did get to do my workshop on the Thursday, and I had an amazing time again, so yes, I’d say mission accomplished.

Who knows, we’ll be seeing each other there next year?