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By Parker Torrence

Published on September 9, 2000

I tend to sit in my own corner and do what I enjoy doing without too much concern with the latest fad, style or trend. Yet, every so often I do look around the web to see what others are doing, and what, if any, benefit this might have for me. So it was that I came to pick up a copy of "Flash Web Design, the art of motion graphics" by Hillman Curtis1. On page 01:08, Mr. Curtis talks briefly about Multitasking Attention Deficit (M.A.D.), and that web motion designers need to be aware of it. The bottom line was, because of M.A.D. you need to communicate your message in 10 seconds or less.

After I read that, my thoughts ran along these lines, "if M.A.D. is real, all web designers should be conscious of it." I executed a search in an attempt to find more information about this little-known condition. All links lead back to Mr. Curtis or his book. The link to The New York Times, October 28, 1999, "arts@large" by Matthew Mirapaul was the only one that did not quote the book, yet it presented little additional information.

I did what any person on the Internet can do, I decided to post a survey to an e-list I'm a member of.

The Downhill Bicycle Race
One of the biggest factors that could sum up the last century is speed. We like fast cars, fast food, microwave dinners and fast Internet access. Broadband is the new speed for the year 2000. Between the technology of the Digital Subscriber Line (or DSL)2, Cable and Satellite connections, consumers are subscribing to broadband access at an increasing rate. It is anticipated that by the end of the year 2000 there will be 6 million consumers with broadband. In 2005 this number is expected to grow to 34.7 million3. This looks like a downhill bicycle race to me.

I posted this informal survey to an e-list and got this feedback.

Of the members that responded to my survey, the age groups were from 20 to 45 with one response over 45. 5% were from the U.K., 5% from Australia, 10% were from Canada, and the other 80% were from the U.S., or using a web-based email address. 100% of those asked, said that "yes" they did multitask. 95% surfed the web with more then one active browser window. 90% also used instant messages while multitasking and surfing. Only 30% conducted more then three instant message conversations, while multitasking. 50% also watched television or listened to music at the same time. 60% said that they also talked on the phone while multitasking, messaging and surfing.

Of those that had children, 100% said that they were also aware of what their children were doing while they are doing all of this. 75% of these people already have broadband, and the average time they are willing to wait for a page to load is 45 seconds. The replies ran from 5 seconds (on broadband) to 2 minutes (also on broadband). Most stated that they normally let one browser window load while they looked at the other. Even with narrowband Internet access, most were not willing to wait more then 60 seconds for a page to load. 60% said that if they have the option to skip over an intro animation, they would. 95% said that they are more interested in content then artistic WOW when they surf.

What did I learn from this data?

Pretty much everyone multitasks, and most people surf with multiple browser windows. Many watch television or listen to music as well. Another element that became very clear was that designers who spend a lot of time creating animated introductions are more than likely losing over 50% of their visitors before the WOW has finished running.

So, is M.A.D. real? Well it is clear that just about everyone does do some type of multitasking. One respondent even stated that their all time record was 23 applications running at the same time. Another simply stated that they ran as many as their system could handle without slowing down. Many expressed in one-way or another that they preformed the various forms of multitasking to alleviate boredom. Is M.A.D. a true deficit, an attempt to fight boredom, or could it be a skill?

The Need for a New Paradigm
Could we be viewing M.A.D. from the wrong end of the paradigm? If we look at it in a new light, say, "Multitasking Attention Dexterity," what new meaning could this have for designers and developers? If M.A.D. is viewed as a new mastery of information intake and not as an attention deficit, the possibilities become almost frightening. At the same time, not every consumer to a web site is "blessed" with M.A.D., so the speed at which information can be presented must be in the control of the consumer.

Before we begin looking at a new paradigm, the old paradigm should be briefly explored. The old foundation seems to be firmly rooted in the television mentality. You know, the one that says that: a web site is like a television channel, the consumer arrives at your site and they are going to sit there passively and watch whatever you want to move across their monitor. Many designers may disagree with this perspective, but the very sad fact is that too many web sites are still being presented in just this manner. How is it that many designers have failed to grasp the concept that the Internet is not television? Consumers are looking for content, not passive entertainment.

It is clear, even without consideration of M.A.D. that there is a need for a new web design paradigm. So what should it look like? Many of the same rules of the past would still be valid, such as fast loading pages and intuitive navigation. Another thing that should be evident to all is that no one likes to hunt for information. I don't know about you, but if I have to click more then three times to get to what I'm looking for, I'm gone.

The key, I think, to a new paradigm is that it needs to be interactive. The consumer needs to be engaged with your message, in order to be focused upon what it is you are presenting. If they are not focused on your message, chances are they are focused upon one of the other windows that they have open. It is also clear to me that the faster the access a person has, the less time they are willing to wait. Most important is the need to design so that your 10 seconds of WOW is activated when the viewer comes back to that browser window. That may be the real challenge at this point.

Until broadband captures a larger number of consumers, faster access does not give the designers and developers of the Internet a green light for larger file sizes. Quality, not quantity of information, is now and will always be, the key to keeping a consumer coming back to your web site.

Interactive motion graphics may very well be the wave of the future, yet a fundamental rule of animation will always hold true. The consumer will only focus upon one movement at a time. To be successful, that movement needs to be your message.

Bibliography
1 Flash Web Design the art of motion graphics
by Hillman Curtis
2000 New Riders Publishing
ISBN 0-7357-0896-7
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2 DSL: The new 'World Wide Wait'
by Robert D. Lamb 09/06/00
http://www.usatoday.com/money/columns/lamb/0005.htm
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3 Broadband numbers
http://www.techtv.com/workingtheweb/estats/jump/0,9815,2575810,00.html
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Parker Torrence, also known as St.Parker on the Internet, is a Digital Artist who runs an experimental art project, .u.n.f.o.l.d.e.d. .s.o.u.l.s.

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