Attention Spans Are Short: Here’s How to Hook Users

A goldfish has a longer attention span than you do. Let that sink in for a moment. Now, what are you going to do about it?

As a designer, it is your job to create something that people will stop and interact with. It takes a design and user experience that will hook visitors and keep them clicking and tapping. Combat short attention spans with smart design.

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Make It Fast

hook users

Everything about your design should convey speed so users don’t feel like they have to wait for information. This includes ensuring that your website or app loads quickly and creating a sense of movement in the design.

  • Streamline load times by ditching unnecessary features and loading animations that signal a wait. Just a three-second delay can increase the chance of users abandoning the design before they even see it.
  • Design for motion. Whether you employ visual techniques in a still design or add video or animation, movement can make a design appear to move faster. There will feel like less of a wait and there are things that will grab a user’s attention (for a couple of seconds anyway). Consider a video loop that moves at a fast-forward type of pace to make it look even faster, and potentially more engaging.
  • Design with space so that the eye moves from element to element quickly. This eye speed and quick understanding of the content will make the design easy to digest in a hurry.

Rely on the Inverted Pyramid

hook users

The inverted pyramid is something young reporters learn on the first day of class – put the most important information at the top (or in the forefront) and trickle down to the least important information. Structure your design in the same way.

Not sure how to identify important information? Answer six key questions for users:

  1. Who?
  2. What?
  3. When?
  4. Where?
  5. Why?
  6. How?

The design should revolve around answering these questions with calls to action pointing in the direction of answers.

Show Progress

hook users

Users like to feel a sense of accomplishment. Use a progress bar or notifications that show how close to completion a user is when scrolling through a slider (there’s a reason those dots to indicate the number of slides is so popular) or tell users how far they have come.

Progress indicators are particularly important when users are providing information to you as well. How complete is a form? The answer lets a user know how much time and commitment they have invested with your design. And people like success.

Admit it, you watch how long a download takes every time you click something … that’s because you want to know how much longer it will take. That’s a progress indicator.

Make Things Easy to ‘Touch’

hook users

The closer a target is to the user, the more likely they are to interact with it. So make targets – such as calls to action, links or buttons – easy to touch.

You can do this with the design in a few ways:

  • Create oversized targets that are impossible to miss. Whether buttons or other elements are larger or just look larger due to contrast or color is irrelevant. What matters is that they are at the forefront of the design.
  • Group similar elements so users don’t have to move all over the screen to complete actions. The closer things are to each other, the more likely it is that related items will earn similar interactions.
  • Make things easy to reach. On mobile devices in particular, everything should be less than a thumb’s distance away – even on the biggest phones. This is the prime tap area and it makes accessing tapping or swiping items easy and won’t cause any undue muscle tension for the user.

Limit Options for Users

hook users

Having too many options can slow down the user’s decision-making and thought processes and make the design feel slow. (Even if this is not the case.)

You know what you want users to do when they reach your website. Lead them to that desired action. Give them a few choices along the way so the user feels in control, but keep them moving along the path toward success. This applies to everything from links and calls to action within content areas of the design and in the main navigation. (Streamline navigation as much as possible, limiting it to vital pages. Use internal linking and search for everything else.)

There are many schools of thought the set a “right” number of choices. This can vary based on your content, but generally speaking, a this or that construction makes decision making the easiest. With two options, users must pick one or the other.

Create Consistency

hook users

The easiest way to hook users is to keep them clicking. The quickest way to do that is to design with consistency.

Using similar fonts, colors and user interface element styles makes it easy for users to move through the design because they don’t have to learn something new visually or stop and think about usability patterns. The design should be consistent from page to page and consistent with commonly accepted user patterns and practices to put usability – and speed – at the forefront of the design.

Design for Readability

hook users

Text that’s easy to read is more likely to catch someone’s attention that trying to decipher a complicated typeface. There’s nothing like a giant Helvetica “Hey You” to grab someone’s attention.

Readability does something else as well. It helps users scan the design for keywords or bits of information they find relevant. You only have a few seconds to do this, so users need to quickly identify something that relates to their needs right away. Don’t waste that precious time with a silly typeface and three words.

Give Users Something To Do

hook users

Make sure the design includes calls to action, a game, a fun fact or links. Users like to interact with websites; that’s why they are on your page in the first place, so give them something to do.

Think about single-click or short interactions that are delightful or functional. These can range from a hover animation to full-scale game or product information and reviews. Make the interactions easy to find and remember to limit interactive options so that users aren’t overwhelmed by too many choices. Pick one or two interactive elements to be your design “trick” and keep everything else relatively simple.

Finally, as you create something for users to do, don’t forget to tell them to do it. Clear calls to action can help create conversions.


Think about websites you have visited recently. What made you hang around for longer than 8 seconds? What made you abandon the design faster than that?

Keep those two lists handy. Use them with the tips above to help plan and design something that will lure users to engage more deeply with the content.