Hey! May I have your attention?
Many of us who have children suddenly experience a change in what grab their attention. Suddenly they see things they would never even noticed before. If you don’t have kids you might have experienced this when you grew a new interest in something. When I got hooked on cycling, I saw cyclists and bikes very differently and I also became another type of driver: since I know how quickly I can ride my bike, I pay more attention to potential bikes on a road than your average non cycling driver. Sometimes this can be derived from more troublesome events. A couple of years ago, I was attacked by a probably mentally instable man while running to work and since he attacked me from behind I’ve since then become much more aware of scruffy looking old guys with big black dogs while running. Not that I’m afraid, but I do take notice of them.
What we pay attention to is personal but there are, as John Medina points to in his Brain Rules, also some cultural differences. Urban Asians view visual scenes pay a lot attention to the context of the scene and the contrasts between foreground objects and background objects while North Americans pay attention to foreground objects before paying attention to background objects and context. This means that different groups presented to one visual presentation will probably see very different things.
When we present something or try to make a visualization of something, we take for granted that others notice the things we want them to notice. But then again, we all know that you yourself don’t direct your attention to what the presenter had in mind. How many things have you thought about the presenter’s weird accent and missed the context of the presentation? How many times did one of the items in the presentation grab all your attention, making you miss the rest of the content?
We cannot force people pay attention to what we had in mind but we can do what we can in order to help onviewers pay attention to the important things. And step one is probably to recognize that we all pay attention to different things.