Visual Intelligence

by Luke Wroblewski February 1, 2004

In his book, Visual Intelligence, Donald Hoffman presents a set of thirty-plus rules of visual processing that demonstrate how “vision is not merely a matter of passive perception, it is an intelligent process of active construction”. Understanding how people interpret visual stimulus can provide an increased awareness for creating effective interface designs. Donald’s rules are independent of culture and part of a child’s biology. This means we can rely on them to universally communicate visual information about the content and activities found within interactive systems.

“You construct visual worlds from ambiguous images in conformance to visual rules.”

One thing that becomes apparent through reading Donald’s rules is the importance of white space and alignment in design. In many examples (used to illustrate the rules of visual processing), “blank space” and alignment can define visual elements (and visual relationships) more effectively than solids or outlines. Though this may seem a bit counter-intuitive, the importance of white space and alignment in graphic design is a testament to the fact that very frequently “less” is more.

Many interfaces are coming around to this method of visual communication and using less visual elements to communicate more information. Not only does this reduce visual clutter, but it allows the eye to do its job more effectively.

“Vision is a process that produces from images of the external world a description that is useful to the viewer and not cluttered with irrelevant information” –David Marr

Sounds like interface design to me.