Design Implications of Visual Perception

Session Title

Design Implications of Visual Perception


Dave McColgin, Artefact

Session Type: Presentation

Effective visual design is aligned with human perceptual capabilities. What’s fascinating is that many principles of design such as linear perspective or color theory evolved long before their perceptual mechanisms were understood. Through practice, artists and designers were able to intuit and pass on effective design systems and rules. Now Dave McColgin, a user researcher with Artefact, will show and discuss why many of these principles are true through direct examples of perceptual phenomena.

Dave will share multiple audience activities and demonstrations of perceptual abilities and limitations paired with their related rules of thumb. He will address the use of dimension, color, motion, symbols, and contrast for design, e.g.:
* How detailed images of our retinas show us the best uses of color and contrast
* How we direct our gaze and attention and what it means for interface layouts
* Our “sliding window” of temporal processing and implications for motion design
* What optical illusions teach us about 3D and eye movement
* How low-level processing of certain visual attributes make them “pop”
* How we process depth and which are the strongest cues
* Why your volume and brightness adjustments use a non-linear scale

Some of the rules of thumb should be familiar and others less so. The hope is that pulling the rules together makes a valuable resource for designers and that a deeper understanding of how their work is perceived will enhance their professional toolbox, letting them use (or break!) the rules for the desired effect.


Dave is a user researcher at Artefact and has experience directing software research and design for national security, where the implications of user experience go beyond shopping cart conversions. He arrived in experience design after studying the neuroscience of perception, from which much of this talk is derived. He has worked and published on information visualization, touch interaction, information retrieval, award-winning eLearning interactions, speech translator hardware, and more.


  1. Posted September 16, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Well thought out, and completely compelling.

  2. Posted September 20, 2009 at 5:51 pm

    This sounds like a great presentation. It would be really helpful to understand the science behind these phenomena. Then, you can create a design that is informed from the start, rather than going with what “looks good” or spending a lot of time experimenting.

  3. Tzu-Wei
    Posted September 21, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    Sounds very interesting! Seems like a great (and rare) opportunity to learn about how an understanding of human perception can guide visual design, especially from someone who’s both studied the neuroscience of perception as well as practiced interaction design.