Change Blindness and Short-term memory buffers
The duration of the flickers (not flickrs) that are used to demonstrate Change Blindness in the video posted in the link below only last a few miliseconds, but it’s a powerful visual tool to demonstrate just how easily it is to lose a reader or viewer’s attention.
This means that visual clutter can have a major effect on interface design, if not used in a purposeful way. More so because of the interactivity of sites – how is the site designed for the user’s goals? And issues like whether distraction is appropriate, and even branding and immersion can affect the overall experience for users.
Okay, so maybe pages aren’t designed with milisecond lapses of flashing gray blobs, but what if a sidebar that presents new information keeps getting missed? What about ad placements? A good place to start might be theory, so some Gestalt psychology might help:
Basically, these funny shapes just mean that people tend to group things together to form some kind of meaningful unit (the closure pattern looks like a circle, the proximity pattern makes the four blocks look like one unit, the continuity pattern makes the user want to fill in the blanks, and there’s some kind of vertical order in similarity vs. a vertical one). There are more laws, but the basic gist is – things need to make sense, and here we have visual representations that are more likely to be in one order than another.
In summary of these laws, the law of Pragnanz is sort of an overriding principle – one to rule them all.
Couple this with Change Blindness, and you might wonder how these patterns may help to either diffuse or illuminate particular elements. Visual clutter can be easily achieved by dumping a random collection of these patterns into one thick slush.
Add to that the tendency for users to leave your site within seconds of not finding what they want.
Caveat emptor. Design isn’t just a pretty thing.