The shift towards digital channels during the pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the level of online competition with many more brands investing in D2C than ever before. Anyone involved in creative production knows only too well that the fight for consumer attention is fierce and cutting through the noise requires effective decision making around the placement of assets, choice of messaging and visual design.

At Dragonfly AI, we’re experts in visual attention, with many of the world’s leading brands using our platform daily to benchmark and optimise the visual effectiveness of creative assets before they go live.

For global brands, delivering effective content at scale across multiple markets can be a massive challenge. Whether creative production is handled in-house or through agency partners, setting effective design benchmarks helps brands to improve standardisation, quality, and ultimately performance (ROI) across their businesses. Despite 10 years of digital acceleration compressed into a much shorter period by the pandemic, key principles remain true in understanding how our brains process information and how we prioritise where to direct our limited attention.

Many of us are familiar with this famous graphic:


Dragonfly AI

This is a wonderfully simple example of the power of visual hierarchy and design.

Whether you’re designing the next generation of product packaging or re-working the checkout flow on your e-commerce store, you’re likely to have several design goals surrounding which elements you want your audience to see first, what you want your audience to remember later; and what action you want them to take next.

Creating a clear visual hierarchy (which maps to these design goals) helps audiences to digest the information you’re presenting and gives you a better chance of realising your design objectives.

So, how can we accurately measure the effectiveness of design decisions and validate whether the visual hierarchy we create truly aligns with our design objectives rather than creating unnecessary friction?

Let’s start by looking at how the brain naturally processes information:

The science behind visual hierarchy

Our brains consume vast amounts of visual information but there is a limit to how much we can process (and more importantly pay attention to) at any given time. Because of this limitation, we have evolved to prioritise visual information based on several visual cues.

  • Colour
  • Contrast
  • Texture
  • Orientation
  • Scale
  • Movement

These visual cues help us quickly evaluate the world around us and identify what may deserve our attention before our conscious mind kicks in. We call this the pre-cognitive stage of viewing.

When viewing the world around us without a specific prior motivation, these visual characteristics govern where we look and what grabs our attention (we call this free-viewing).

When viewing the world around us with a specific prior motivation (e.g., searching for the same breakfast cereal we purchased last week) our prior motivation dictates where we may begin our search, but the same visual cues still govern what catches our attention within our field of view (we call this intrinsically motivated viewing).

The Dragonfly AI algorithm mirrors the way our brains process visual information allowing our users to objectively determine the visual hierarchy for any given asset and identify whether that hierarchy is likely to be helping or hindering overall performance.

A key benefit of our specific approach to predicting attention is that our algorithm wasn’t trained using specific datasets (e.g. fixation data from eye-tracking tests). Instead, has been designed to simulate the way our brains process visual information (from a biological standpoint). For this reason, the algorithm does not have a training bias towards a specific touchpoint or category. It basically uses the same natural processing capability the human brain employs when its ingesting and prioritizing what we see in the world around us.

With this in mind, let’s look at how Dragonfly AI can be applied to various channels to measure visual hierarchy:

Advertising & promotion

The average consumer is now expected to encounter between 6,000 and 10,000 ads every single day. The MMA also recently published their 1-second strategy, recognising that we have less than a second to catch the attention of today’s consumers. Ensuring your ad stands out within its context is key to maximising overall reach, however, it’s the visual hierarchy within the ad that dictates whether viewers see what you want them to see and take away the key message.

Image 1: Billboard Advert

This advertising billboard run through our hotspot report shows you the number of elements that are drawing people’s attention and in what order.

Shopper marketing

Visual merchandising plays a key role in helping products to stand out in a physical store environment. When shoppers see visual merchandising before they see individual products, the visual merchandising must effectively convey the key messaging to hold shoppers’ attention. A clear visual hierarchy helps you cut through the noise and build awareness with shoppers.

Store environments can be chaotic with numerous promotional assets competing for the attention of shoppers as they move throughout the store. End-of-Aisle and Point-of-Sale promotions play a key in driving impulse and incremental purchases. A clear visual hierarchy ensures that when shoppers do see your promotion, your message is heard.

Lastly, the fight for attention on-shelf is fierce and brands are always looking for an edge to maximise their share of attention in-store. Packaging must win the attention of passing shoppers then effectively communicate key information to hold their interest and have a chance of convincing them to make a purchase. At low price points, many purchases are sub-conscious, so design and visual hierarchy play a key role in who comes out on top.

Image 2: Product packaging

This product packaging run through our hotspot report shows you the number of elements that are drawing people’s attention and in what order.

eCommerce and landing pages

Consumers are time-poor, media-savvy, and have increasingly shorter attention spans are short. Landing pages need to cut through the noise and deliver a strong value proposition before the user loses interest and moves on. Having a clear visual hierarchy will help you make the most of every conversion opportunity and by ensuring your message is heard and your visitors know how to take the next step if your message hits the mark. What’s more, reducing friction in key customer journeys online is critical to maximising conversion. Helping customers to orient themselves during the path to purchase, quickly identify trust signals and understand how to proceed to the next stage will all help to reduce cart abandonment and ultimately increase sales. A clear visual hierarchy helps makes the customer experience seamless.

Another thing that visual hierarchy aids is self-service online. Great customer support is high on the list for today’s consumer. Self-service support options can help customers find information faster and reduce the load on support agents. For self-service to be adopted, customers need to be able to find information fast. A clear visual hierarchy helps customers to find and digest information quickly.

Image 3: eCommerce website

This eCommerce landing page that has been run through our hotspot report shows you the number of elements that are drawing people’s attention and in what order.


Despite the recent changes in consumer behavior, visual hierarchy is still fundamental to our ability to communicate effectively across all channels. The premise is simple, but good design hinges on our ability to identify the right design objectives from the outset, whether that’s building brand awareness, evoking an emotional response, or creating a compelling call to action. When we understand this, we can design content and experiences that effectively deliver on these objectives and improve the customer experience.

Interested in finding out more about how you can optimise your content for visual attention?

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