During a debate between Norman Mailer and Marshall McLuhan the subject of information overload came up. The year was 1968. McLuhan, regarded by some as the father of media studies, said when people experience information overload they resort to patterns.
One such pattern was detected and studied by usability expert Jakob Nielson. Through eye tracking studies he is able to show how people scan websites. Below is a picture of an About Us page on a corporate website. The red color shows the most viewed areas, yellow less viewed, and blue the least. He calls this the F viewing pattern.
As you can see on the map people read the first paragraph from left to right. After that their eyes jump down to the left side middle area. They rarely get to the end of a text heavy page. This shows that the most important content on the website page should be in the first paragraph.
Another interesting pattern was observed by Dutch cognitive scientist Christof van Nimwegen as described in Nicholas Carr’s book The Shallows. He shows evidence of how our information tools are influencing mental habits. Software programs that do the thinking for us actually create a less engaging environment. With no problem solving required the brain disengages.
To be memorable these studies show your website content should encourage some contemplation and reflection. Saving the best for first positions your content well for rapid readers. It also provides the reader with context.
Watching the Mailer/McLuhan debate on a YouTube video inspired me to write this post. The first paragraph provides context and encourages reflection. If I am not engaged as the writer, chances are null that you will be as the reader.
Have you noticed patterns of information overload in your audience? If so, what are you doing to address it?