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So, I've noticed this quite a lot. Almost every time something is emphasized (be it in an email, website, paper, etc.) with big, bold and red-colored letters, it most likely will not be read by people, whereas the objective is the complete opposite.

Why is that so? I feel this has something to do with the fact that we are looking for some particular thing and we assume it's not in that big fat bunch of text, but it also seems a bit far-fetched.

Any explanation to this? Are there better ways to handle important information?

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The concept is called "Banner Blindness".

Users have learned to ignore content that resembles ads, is close to ads, or appears in locations traditionally dedicated to ads.

Basically, we have developed an instinct to automatically ignore anything that looks like ads. They can appear in the page, right in front of us, but they don't register in our brain. Same reason we automatically close promotional pop-ups or just blank out commercials, etc.

The more companies want to push promotions with big flashy annoying and obnoxious implementations, the more likely they will be ignored. We hate ads so much we call them internet cancer because the web would be un-browsable without ad blockers.

The best way to handle important information is presenting it in a readable and engaging format, making sure it's findable, it's concise and to the point and addresses exactly what the user is looking for (no marketing filler fluff). Make sure it's understandable in layman terms (e.g. most return policy pages need to be re-written in layman terms, picture an already frustrated customer trying to understand legal jargon).

Think about cooking recipe blogs and how people complain the recipe is often 10% of the content and all the way in the bottom. It's a reaction to marketing fluff and unsolicited content: People arrive from Google for the recipe, not to learn about the author's entire life story. The engaging part happens in the recipe content itself. For example, steps are clear and concise, understandable, supported by short visual clips of how to do them, special ingredients have replacement alternatives or links to buy them, the recipe is formatted well for printing for those who like using paper, etc.

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There needs to be more context or facts to that observation before coming to a conclusion. Various factors might come into picture.

Banner Blindness is more towards content related to or looking like an ad; but if it is just about big bold or colored words, then it could be because of placement, or hierarchy, or visual identification.

For example, a content-compact website which has all the 255 shades of R,G,B along with all the typefaces in the world - the amount of diversity in the website brings cognitive load to process the visuals so much that the content understanding takes a back-seat.

Another example, a simple-minimal website which balances content and whitespace and uses font-type or size and alignment to bring out the information hierarchy. This doesn't put much load on understanding the environment and puts focus on content. The <i> and <em> are both visually italics and <b> and <strong> are both bold in HTML, however have subtle variations. Bring the UX context, emphasizing the content not only depends on what you do with it, but also what happens to the surrounding.

Considering an illustration as example, having a gray-scale background with a colored-foreground subject will bring more emphasis and importance to it.

Hence, the query needs some factual info backing it to be able to contradict, IMO.

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I think this is actually a variety of the brain 'filtering': if you are reading small print, then you filter out in your view anything which isn't more small print.

Big letters don't get a look in.

However if you are reading large text then all you notice is large text.

It's a bit like the 'getting a new car phenomenon': once you are alert to that brand of car, you suddenly notice how many other people drive the same model.

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Why is that so? I feel this has something to do with the fact that we are looking for some particular thing and we assume it's not in that big fat bunch of text, but it also seems a bit far-fetched.

Banner blindness has already been mentioned, but I think that there's more to this than just ads.

  • What's the biggest piece of text on this page? It's the logo, "U★X User Experience". Useful orientation if you came from a link, but completely irrelevant for completing a task such as reading or writing an answer.

  • What's the second-biggest piece of text on this page? “Why do users…”, your question title. Again, useful for orientation, but much less specific than the question text.

  • How many times have you visited a web site and seen a big red notice at the top of the page — that turns out to be completely irrelevant to you, and furthermore is just attached to the top of every page regardless of the purpose of the specific page?

In general, unusually-styled text is likely to be metadata or boilerplate, not content.

If you want people to read something, fit it into the structure of the document or form they're reading; don't just toss it in and emphasize it. Especially, beware of emphasizing it in a way that does not fit into the visual design of the rest of the content — that makes it easy for users to mentally categorize it as unrelated/irrelevant.

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