Change Blindness

Change Blindness


Our brains are wired to decipher and translate whatever we see into a mental map. This process is non-conscious and extremely fast-paced, which explains why we tend to internalise only key highlights of a particular visual and have our brains fill in the rest of this mental map. However, a fascinating twist to this is how amidst the complex analysis of our visual input is our propensity to miss out, or unintentionally overlook, on key changes that are essentially painfully obvious. Psychologist George McConkie calls this change blindness.


A big upshot of advertising is how people are often not as observant and detail-oriented as they would like to think. Now this becomes interestingly important in the field of advertising, since advertisers usually only have a finite amount of time and attention-span to work with in succinctly and effectively sending their message across to their audience. Furthermore, if ad campaigns show little to no differentiation or distinct elements between them, consumers are very likely to disregard the campaigns altogether due to the isolation effect.

Hence, it becomes imperative for marketers to address change blindness at the intersection of message-delivery and visual layout in order to craft aesthetically pleasing ads that are at the same time visually efficient.

In the realm of movie posters, most people do not consciously notice that movie poster layouts tend to revolve around similar blueprints. At this stage, graphic designers have to rely on other aspects of the poster to differentiate the product and add unique value to their deliverable. These aspects range from typography, colour palettes, and additional graphics.


The concept of change blindness sheds light on a potential problem for UX designers. UX designers frequently set out with specific goals in mind, which could potentially lead to too much focus being placed overtly on the specificities and inadvertently miss out on the bigger picture. Consequentially, UX designers could very well end up oblivious to other aspects of the overall user experience.

In this example, a UX design flaw on the Vans online store manifests in the ‘add to cart / out of stock’ button, which are like-for-like. Because our brains process the overall site so rapidly, we are quite likely to assume that there is nothing out of the ordinary and that the red pair of sneakers selected is available for purchase. This could contribute to the user experience being a painful one especially when they find realise their inability to proceed with the purchase process, since there is no visual prompt that stands out once the user has selected an item that is currently out of stock.

In UX design, change detection has to be better facilitated in order to overcome change blindness and optimise the user experience. Change blindness is a grave epidemic – one that has to be taken seriously.

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