The attentional capture of colour in visual interface design: a controlled-environment study

DS 87-8 Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Engineering Design (ICED 17) Vol 8: Human Behaviour in Design, Vancouver, Canada, 21-25.08.2017

Year: 2017
Editor: Anja Maier, Stanko Škec, Harrison Kim, Michael Kokkolaras, Josef Oehmen, Georges Fadel, Filippo Salustri, Mike Van der Loos
Author: Andersen, Emil; Maier, Anja
Series: ICED
Institution: Technical University of Denmark, Denmark
Section: Human Behaviour in Design
Page(s): 519-528
ISBN: 978-1-904670-96-4
ISSN: 2220-4342


The use of colour is an integral component in visual interface design for creating separation between objects and for conveying meaning. It has previously been established that colours can be separated in a hierarchy of primary colours and secondary colours, and that colours are consistently associated with specific mood tones. However, it has thus far not been investigated whether these two factors, which we refer to as the perception-primacy and emotion-conveyance, are associated with attentional capture in a congruent manner. To investigate this, we conducted a visual search task study in a controlled environment, in which 11 participants scanned a 20 item display for a coloured target amongst coloured distractors. We found evidence to support that primary colours capture attention significantly more than secondary colours, and inconclusive evidence that colours convey their meaning at a sufficiently early level of processing to influence attention. We end by discussing implications of our results for design practice and research in psychology.

Keywords: Attention in design, Emotional design, Communication, Human behaviour in design, Visualisation


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