Browsing Habits

Part of user-experience design is considering how elements on a web page compete for attention. We spend so much time prioritizing the prominence of items within a page while making little consideration for what else people are doing. What if users rarely devote 100% of their attention to a web page? To learn more, I surveyed 83 of my closest friends on their browsing habits:

On Average, how many browser windows do you have open at once?

  • One 33%
  • Two 36%
  • Three 18%
  • Four to Five 8%
  • Five + 5%

On Average, how many browser tabs do you have open at once?

  • One to Two 19%
  • Three to Four 38%
  • Five to Six 21%
  • Seven + 22%

Typically, where do you spend the majority of your time while browsing?

  • Living Room 22%
  • Office 54%
  • Bedroom / Dorm 16%
  • Kitchen 8%

What types of applications do you have open while browsing

  • Email 83%
  • Music / Audio 77%
  • Social Networking 79%
  • Word Processing 50%
  • Online Chat 36%
  • Creative Applications 35%
  • Data Processing 31%

While browsing, what are you doing outside the computer?

  • Watching TV 52%
  • Working 62%
  • Radio / Music 40%
  • Mobile 12%
  • Eating / Drinking 60%
  • Household Work 24%
  • Hobby 10%

When visiting a website, what % of your full attention do you give?

  • 100% 9%
  • 75% 58%
  • 50% 27%
  • 25% 6%

How long does it take to decide whether or not to click further into a site?

  • 1-2 seconds 10%
  • 5-20 seconds 58%
  • 20 seconds - 1 min27%
  • 1 minute + 5%

What is your age? Remember, this survey is anonymous.

  • Younger than 20 6%
  • 20-29 48%
  • 30-39 15%
  • 40-49 8%
  • 50-59 10%
  • 60-69 9%
  • 70+ 4%

What does this mean?

To me, this just confirms what we’ve always known. People don’t browse in a vacuum. We’re mid-conversation, getting off the bus with battery life & email notifications blinking at us web browsers. My Paravel cohort recently tweeted:

The less your design competes with itself, the less you compete with everything else

This high level of competition for attention is something web designers must always have in mind. Keep things simple. Present users with one idea at a time and while you’re at it, go ahead and make that button 20px larger.

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11 Responses

Leave a comment or contact me via Twitter @TrentWalton

  • Christopher Meeks

    Great stuff Trent. I think you are right on. The simpler and clearer, the better. Say what you are trying to say without dividing users attention in 5 different competing ways.

    Its great to have rich and dynamic content, but design it in a way so that there is a “look here first” focus on every page.

  • David Arnold

    This is very true, but begs the question:

    How can you have 83 closest friends and still get stuff done?!

    • Trent

      Ha! Who said I get anything done?!? Plus, anyone who fills out a survey for me definitely qualifies as a close friend.

  • Dianna Walton

    I think that you are right on!

  • David Trang

    As Steve Krug would say, we don’t figure things out or pay attention initially. We muddle through them. With xx amount of browser windows/tabs open and xx apps running while browsing, it’s easy to see why it’s rare that 100% of your full attention goes to one particular web page.

    I’m pretty surprised at the high % of eating/drinking though, almost beating out actual work. Unless this accounts for mobile browsing too. I’m always eating lunch and reading news on my iphone, but rarely eat while at the office desk.

    • Trent

      David, I’m surprised about the food % as well. It could reference the coffee house / open bag of snacks type of thing. Thanks for stopping by & for commenting.

    • zane

      good article, I agree with this statement

  • Octavio Corral

    good write up Trent. And I completely agree with trying to present one item at time. I don’t understand why sites try fill up sidebars with as much crap as possible to try and take their users away from the information they were trying to find in the first place.

  • Jack Osborne

    So we finally get to see your dribbble shots come to life. This is a beautiful post Trent, I love everything about it.

  • Ben

    Excellent article. I was just really getting into it, when I suddenly got distrated by...

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