(this is a companion page to post 1.2, adapted from an article upcoming on focusandframes.com which discusses the ergonomics of attention and useability)
What think you?
Imagine that each of the chunks of text shown in the window below is an email you were reading on screen. Consider the impression you'd get from opening note (a) on top vs. (b) beneath. Which one would you instinctively feel was easier to read on screen or more likely to be succinct and interesting?
For the best effect, click on the image to see it full-size, imagine your answer, then scroll down for the rest of my thoughts beneath..
Which note had more eye appeal? Was it (a) the top version in which the text fills the entire width from side to side? Or would it be (b) in which the text is indented? Or (c) do you think this is a silly question and that it makes no kind of difference?
If the eye of your mind works much like mine, you didn't have to think twice. The indented version (b) was much more inviting. The (b) version also seems as if it would be faster to read,
As I discuss in some of my other blogging on topics in science and health, our brains are constantly calculating how much effort to apply to the tasks we address, especially tasks such as reading which take some extra bandwidth. That top letter looks as if it will take a bit more processing power to scan the entire width, while the bottom text looks more like something you can just zip through. The bottom text also looks neater, by having its margin offset, and in snap-judgement land, neater suggests the thinking will be more clear, and thus perhaps more interesting.
You never knew you might be transmitting so many impressions in the subtext, did you? But don't feel like a doofus who missed something obvious. Very few folks think of issues like this, at least not consciously. But almost everyone does so beneath the hood and behind the scenes of awareness.
Here's another test to try on your own if you're game to experiment. Pick a day and indent all your outgoing email. Then see if that batch of notes seems to yield any higher rate of prompt replies or positive feedback, and let me know if you think there could be a difference. Mere correlation means nothing by itself, but it still would be interesting to know.
And if you enjoy this kind of topic, take a peek at one of my sister blogs at focusandframes.com. It explores the ways we shape our perceptions to create all sorts of impressions.