Evaluating a visual experience

Larry Keeley, President of The Doblin Group, a US strategic planning firm, gives us a matrix which can be used to plan or evaluate any visual experience. The experience we have when confronted with media can be divided into three stages and a set of ‘attributes’ applied to each.

These attributes are: ATTRACT – ENGAGE – EXTEND – a useful creation formula for any media design.

The first stage of attraction might relate to impact or curiosity. Presumably you have a ‘target audience’ in mind for your product or communication? What method are you going to use to grab their attention from the visually rich stream of life happening around them? What are your reference points within their understanding of the world. Images of sex or death for example cause a dilation of attention in most people and are well-used strategies. Beauty works well but you need to understand the aesthetics of your target audience. Impact, something surprising or unexpected, surreal or humourous all have their place in this attraction of your target audience.

The second stage, engagement concerns how involved the viewer becomes in the experience. Once you have their attention, how are you going to draw them in and stop them pre-judging or ‘mind editing’ what you are saying? People can be quite lazy when it comes to seeing or learning new things. If they can think ‘I have seen this before’, then your message is redundant and the viewer moves on. What techniques are you going to use to involve the audience at this stage. Perhaps some text, offering them something they want, pointing them to further explanation or reward.

Extension relates to what influence the visual experience has, what actions it leads to. What is is exactly that you want your audience to do as a result of them seeing your design or communication. You need to spell this out clearly and offer them the benefits of this course of action. For example ‘ buy this book and you will enter a world of… [something rewarding for target]’.

These three attributes can be applied as a numerical value or a continuum and provide a powerful basis for both planning and examining visual experiences. Essentially Keely asks for each attribute how: defined, fresh, accessible, significant and transformative is each aspect of this journey into design? He provides a table below to manage and evaluate this process of design or evaluation.


A matrix for evaluating visual experience