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I'm working on a site with a number of floating elements intended to provide support that appear on different pages in the same location. For some pages, the floating elements are considerably more relevant than others. Is there any existing research to suggest that users may become habituated to seeing the floating elements early on in the user journey, and may consequently ignore them to the point of not really seeing them when they are more relevant, losing any potential value from those elements?

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Inattentional blindness/the Invisible Gorilla perhaps?

...what you describe also seems similar to just good old-fashioned banner blindness. Plenty of research on that phenomenon.

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In the advertising world, there's a lot of evidence of ad blindness.

But that's not to say that every element that repeats often will drive blindness. For example, most websites put some fixed navigational aid (e.g. a navigation menu, a search box...) on every page, and that doesn't get ignored.

I've also seen tooltips / callouts cause blindness when used too often.

In short, it depends a lot on the specifics, such as

  • Is the element dismissible and in the way of other content that is more likely to be the user's intent to access? If so, it may be blindly dismissed when a user comes to accomplish their task. Better sometimes to make such elements small but non-dismissible.

  • Is the element completely irrelevant to users' intent on the site, such as an ad or promotional message? Or is it likely to be directly related to their task?

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First of all, the correct terminology for this bubbles are tooltips, and all of them guide the user to correctly know how to use the interface.

Definition by NN Group (Alita Joyce)

Definition: A tooltip is a brief, informative message that appears when a user interacts with an element in a graphical user interface (GUI). Tooltips are usually initiated in one of two ways: through a mouse-hover gesture or through a keyboard-hover gesture.

You must use this only in a complex UI, since the UI need to be explained by itself.

Photo by NN Group - https://www.nngroup.com/articles/tooltip-guidelines/

If this tooltips are important, use the copy inside of the UI or, use the tooltips/pop up tips as a second option if you don't get a way to ingretate them in the user interface.

IMHO, the best solution, its to use the "More Info" tooltip in this case and change the color to a light neutral for "meh" information and a contrasted one for the important.

Photo by NN Group - https://www.nngroup.com/articles/tooltip-guidelines/

  • Thanks, but they aren't tooltips. See for instance toyota.co.uk for an example of floating widgets on the right hand side of the page. – Peter Apr 3 at 15:11
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It's not a floating element, it's just a sidebar navigation menu overlays the main content.

The point of UI design is not to make sure the user doesn't ignore something when it's relevant; the point is to make sure the user can easily find something when it's relevant.

It's not a movie; it's an application. People use applications, so it's an active experience for the most part. They'll actively look around when they need something.

Proof - Every site uses something like a three-stripe menu icon in the corner to hide buttons such as user profile, log out ..., but almost everyone ignores it at first because that's how the icon is designed, to be visually un-intrusive. But, the user will know where to look when they want to, for example, log out of the site. The log out button isn't just placed on the side, it's hidden, but it doesn't matter as long as the user knows where to look when they need it.

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