I came across this video explaining how you can reduce the congnitive load by arranging your content in small chunks fitting into your "foveal area":


Of course most of the points are valid, like using high contrast etc. However, I could not find any further proof that the fovea thing is relevant to usability. Does anyone have more information or pertinent research about this?

Keep the fovea and periphery in mind

  • The natural viewing space is like a widescreen TV, made up of the two overlapping fields of each eye's vision.
  • Use high contrast page design elements in provide a peripheral roadmap to the page.
  • Chunk items together with white space or high contrast.

Visualization of natural viewing space

3 Answers 3


Fovea is relevant in case of forms and resolving proximity issues for example.

If you put error messages too far away from the cause of the error (like, the field which was left out), people aren't able to make a connection.

However, if there are other red elements as well, they aren't able to make a connection either.

This is a screenshot from Jeff Johnson's wonderful Designing with the Mind in Mind

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(Chapter 8 is about Peripherial vision)

How you should think about it?

Your mind works the following way: your eyes can see only clearly an area which roughly equals to your thumb with your arms stretched in front of you. The rest is behind a fog basically.

But your eyes can move rapidly and your brain can act as if it remembers.

So, whenever you enter a new space, or a new screen appears, you quickly scan it, in a few seconds. From that on your mind works "from cache", that is, it has a visual memory (and sometimes, an artifically constructed image) of how things should look like around, and you see the only thing you're directly looking at.

I guess - albeit I'm not expert - this can play a role on why most people fail on the gorilla test.

How does it affect every day UX practice?

It comes out usually on usability testings, when people can't see things despite being "in front of their nose". That's partly because of the fovea.

It also comes out with eye tracking tests: these are so-called gaze plots.

enter image description here

As eye tracking normally watches your eye with an infrared cam, such shows where your fovea points at. The sizes are however not necessarily connected to a scanning.

Is it only the fovea which is relevant?

Not at all! In her wonderful book, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, Weinschenk refers to the Larson-Loschky experiments, which tell us that peripherial vision is more useful to make us know what to look at.

enter image description here


This idea comes from the basics. That humans have a peripheral and a central vision. Central is what you user to user to look at things directly and to see details you use the peripheral vision. This one allows you see things in the corner of your eye and understanding the world around us. People use peripheral vision when they look at a computer screen and usually decide what a page is about based on a quick look of what it is in their peripheral vision.

Additionally, talking about cognitive load, you can also consider: Brain creates shortcuts. Color and shapes influence what people see. Brain creates groups. Your eyes and brain create patterns, even if they are not there, weight and white space create patterns.

Our brains assimilate 2D better than 3D. i.e. if you are doing an icon, a 2D icon will have more impact

People image objects tilted "canonical view". The brain gets it quicker if you do it the graphics in this way.

If two elements are too close together, the brain will think they belong together.

The idea is that when you are creating a view on a screen you think of all the details so the brain can process it quickly and the users can focus on what you want them to focus.

  • Thanks for all that useful background information. Now I only need to find more examples showing why it is important to prevent your brain from stitching together information by keeping content parts small enough to fit your fovea. Apr 25, 2013 at 22:38
  • Those are great ideas! I agree with many of your points. StackExchange sites are meant as an objective (ish) reference tool, so you'll find many of the best answers have links to other content or are clearly explained as personal opinion and supported by great reasoning and logic. Apr 26, 2013 at 8:41

An article on effective resumes includes an interesting correlation between eye movement and (what the writer defines as) effective resumes.

We know that correlation is not causation - and resume evaluation is quite subjective. So, it's a weak connection. However, an effective resume (according to the writer) appears to cluster information in chunks that correlate well with the foveal vision space.

Because of other cognitive biases, it's a great example to help people understand the importance of getting it right with design. Business related examples with similar images that have a similar theme and a common thread are more powerful in a business setting than anywhere else.

Just don't try to make that connection to a research scientist. Then again, you don't need to persuade a research scientist - just show them the data, and they'll connect the dots. It's marketing, managers and engineers that need persuasion in addition to data.

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