Survival Instincts: Considerations for Design

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“There is a certain level of survival instinct that kicks in, even when a person is just surfing the internet.”

“Human Factors” are design principles devoted to understanding and applying how humans interact with products or processes. There are universal human factors that help guide good design, such as:

  1. Sensory Perception
  2. Pre-attentive Processing
  3. Integration of Prior Knowledge
  4. Metacognition
  5. Working Memory

In the coming weeks, each area will be discussed in depth.

Sensory Perception is an essential part of the human experience, as we use this to make meaning of the world around us. We perceive through our senses. We can see a curve in the road, so we know we have to turn ahead. We can smell pizza when Dad comes home with it and we know it is dinnertime. We hear the ping on our phone to indicate a new message. We feel a raindrop on our nose and reach for an umbrella. We taste sour milk and spit it out because it could be unsafe to drink.

Our senses drive our processing of the world we live in; we take this information and use it to interact safely with our world.

Our senses have evolved for survival purposes. The visual system is comprised of the peripheral vision and the foveal vision. The peripheral vision detects movement and contrast. The foveal vision is the system that perceives color and detailed visual information. Back when humans were hunting and gathering, our ability to detect movement to our sides helped us stay safe from predators and our ability to perceive color and detail in front of us ensured we picked out edible berries, for example. Since our senses have primarily evolved to keep us safe, we use our sensory perception to continue to make decisions about who and what to interact with in the world. There is a certain level of survival instinct that kicks in, even when a person is just surfing the internet.

Something that stands out to the user is considered salient. No matter which sense we are using, contrast is the most important way to make an element salient. Movies do this, where background noise will start to become quiet as a character navigates the woods, and then a loud “bang” will shock viewers. The contrast between the volume of the bang and the quiet background makes the sound that much more effective in conveying a shocking moment. Similarly, when sound cuts off from a very loud scene, the effect is more salient with a greater contrast.

Our visual system detects brightness, where it is dependent on how it contrasts with the background. For example, yellow will appear brighter on a black or navy background than it would on a gray background.

Increased brightness will make that item salient to the user. In addition, items seem brighter when they take up more space, because our eye is taking in more. For instance, Cartier’s US site uses white font on a black background. (1) Their brand name at the top takes up more space, so we perceive it as brightest. (2) Whichever area of the page we are on, as demonstrated by the top navigation, is the brightest white. The dimmed text on the top and secondary navigations indicate that those are not the focus. This gives the user a sense of place – just as our senses help us navigate the outside world, they also help us in navigating technology like websites, apps, etc.

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Cartier US Website: Use of brightness to draw focus and provide sense of place in navigation

Context is important to consider in design. In a low-lit environment, less brightness is needed, because our eyes adjust to the lower level of light. On a dark night, people can detect a candle at a distance up to 30 miles away. A well-designed navigation system will automatically dim when you are driving in low-lit conditions, such as a long tunnel or nighttime. If it is too bright, your eyes will be too drawn to the GPS, which becomes a distraction from the road. However, our eyes do not perceive colors as clearly in the dark. For example, you may not be able to tell if a car is red or blue at night.

Lastly, health problems and aging can affect a user’s sensory perception. For example, visual acuity starts to decline after 60, especially in the detection of the color blue. In addition, Parkinson’s patients have a loss in visual acuity generally, but specifically with color contrasts.

First time users are engaging their senses to initially interact with a product.

A well-designed product will meet this “survival test”, which is whether a user feels comfortable and safe with the design.

That involves providing them a clear sense of place, an idea of where to access important information (salient items on the page), robux generator and consideration of context so that the user is not bombarded with sound in a quiet room or brightness in the dark. These considerations will significantly impact a user’s experience.

For more information, please browse the links provided:

Cartier US Website. (2014).

De Valois, R. L., Webster, M. A., De Valois, K. K. & Lingelbach, B. (1986). Temporal properties of brightness and color induction. Vision Research, 26, 887-897.

Gould, S., Arfvidsson, J., Kaehler, A., Sapp, B., Messner, M., Bradski, G. R., Baumstarck, P. Sukwon, C. & Ng, A. Y. (2007). Peripheral-Foveal Vision for Real-time Object Recognition and Tracking in Video. IJCAI, 7, 2115-2121.

Lord, S. R., Clark, R. D., & Webster, I. W. (1990). Visual acuity and contrast sensitivity in relation to falls in an elderly population. Age Ageing, 20(3), 175-181.

Pieri, V., Diederich, N. J., Raman, R., & Goetz, C. G. (2000). Decreased color discrimination and contrast sensitivity in Parkinson’s disease. Journal of the neurological sciences, 172(1), 7-11.

Rossi, A. F. & Paradiso, M. A. (1995). Temporal Limits of Brightness Induction and Mechanisms of Brightness Perception. Vision Res, 36(10), 1391-1398.

Wald, G. (1967). Blue-blindness in the normal fovea. J. Opt. Soc. Am., 57(11), 1289-1301.

Wolchover, Natalie. (2012). How far can the human eye see? Live Science. Retrieved on December 29, 2014, from

Yeh, M., & Wickens, C. D. (2001). Attentional filtering in the design of electronic map displays: A comparison of color-coding, intensity coding, and decluttering techniques. Human Factors, 43(4), 543-562.



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