Design with the Mind in Mind

All designs are to serve the purpose of getting the info across efficiently to the audience. Therefore, the Design Principles are derived from how human perceive, process and memorize information.

Visual Perception

The first aspect to work with is how human visually perceive information presented to them. Human eyes and brains are very powerful in recognizing:

  • Features such as: color, value, angle, slope, length, texture and motion.
  • Patterns such as: proximity, closure and continuation, symmetry, similarity, common area etc.

With the characteristics above in mind, here are the design principles that we can derive:

  • User “pop out” to attract attention. This is to use contrast and emphasis using visual features to make the important elements standout. One of the ways the rotating banner attracts attention is through motion. Usually on a webpage, there is only banner or web part that rotates while other elements stay still.
  • Associate and organize items for skippability.

Nielson Norman Group conducted a study of how people read on a webpage by tracking their eye fixation. A common eye fixation pattern, F-pattern, is shown in the picture below. User start from the first row, reading most of the content of row and move down to the next row. However, as they move down, they tend to read less and less of each row. If the information does not appear in the first few lines, it is buried in the page with little visibility to the reader. This usually happens when no clear guidance is provided to the user and the user cannot easily discover the information they need. That is to say, this is a patter to be avoided. More on NNGroup’s latest article.


An alternative pattern that indicates good reading experience is layer cake gaze pattern. Users work their way down the page, stopping to glance at each heading. They either read more of the section if it is relevant, or skip the section if they find it not relevant. This helps users locate the information they are after quickly, without them wasting time searching through the page line by line.

On a homepage of a portal, content is usually organized into sections ( or web parts), and the title of each section is clear and stands out. This is to help the user navigate their way through the page and find the information that’s of interest to them.


Human memorize information by both short-term and long-term memory.

Short-term memory

A research conducted by George Miller (1956) shows that 7±2 is the “magic number” for the limit on human capacity for processing information with short-term memory[1]. This means human can only process 5-9 items at one shot. Another cognitive scientist Cowan (2001) even provided evidence that that 4±1 is a more realistic figure[2]. This means when providing lists and options on the page, it is important to keep the list short. If the list must be long, for example, you might have a list of the 20 announcements from 5 different departments, all important to publish, you can choose to group them into sub groups and organize them under tabs.

Long-term Memory

People’s long-term memory can also be leveraged for a good UX design. This is to associate the new things (the portal) to the audience’s existing knowledge, which makes it easier for users to learn and adopt. This is the idea behind some of the design considerations on the intranet homepage. Users can easily discover the elements below even without the “pop out” effect.

  • Global Navigation menu at the top of the page.
  • Search Box at the top right corner.
  • A Button to access More Info at the top/bottom right corner of each web part.

These elements exist as part of the convention for a webpage. Therefore, there is no need to emphasize them. On the contrary, it is recommended to neutralize them to minimize the distraction, and to make other important elements stand out on the page.

[1] Miller 1956:

[2] Cowan 2001: