Increasingly organisations understand the importance of creating the right Tone of Voice (ToV) for their communications. That tone needs to be ‘modulated’ for online delivery, where communications must be conversational and reply-focussed. Organisations are beginning to understand even that these days.
But when we converse with people face-to-face so much of what we infer and derive is based on visual cues rather than verbal ones. Online, what’s the equivalent of maintaining eye contact? As well as tone of voice think – the face of delivery.
This came to me this week when Mark Tyrrell, a very talented hypnotherapist and hypnotherapy teacher (I was lucky enough to attend one of his courses a couple of year’s back) Tweeted a New Scientist article about how we’re more likely to think other people are attractive if they’re looking straight at us and smiling.
A study at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, UK, paired nearly identical photos of computer-generated faces, with smiling or disgusted expressions. The pairs only differed in where the irises were pointed: straight at the viewer, or off to the side.
Hundreds of participants then rated the faces for sexual attractiveness, and (what I’d like to focus on) for ‘likeability’. Both men and women found faces looking straight at them to be more attractive and more likeable, even if the faces looked disgusted (though smiling faces were preferred). I think we’ll leave the sexual attractiveness of websites for another day.
I think this face of delivery is very important online because of the conversational and even intimate nature of the communication.
- We know that a brochure is not an exclusive communication (even if our name is lasered at the top).
- A letter may be personal but it isn’t (generally) intimate.
- Online communication is an intimate space because of the way we engage with the delivery system – leaning in to our computer, cradling our Blackberry in the palm of our hand…
Reviewing web content against the above – starting with the visuals
So, online, how do you give your tone of voice eye contact and a smiley face? And, when you’re reviewing web content, what measures might you use to determine the face of your current online delivery?
One place to start might appear to be the visuals you use. Ideally they should be of things and people who ‘connect’ in some way with your business. Be aware of simply purchasing shiny toothed smiley faces from an image catalogue. There is something about model poses and a trick they use, pointing their eyes at the camera but allowing their gaze to soften. This widens the iris – in theory more attractive – but reduces the intensity of the eye-to-eye engagement.
I’m also very grateful to Richard Sedley at cScape for drawing my attention to a study that looked at how web users attention could be drawn to different parts of the screen by using the eyeline of the person in a photograph. Eg if you wanted somebody to look at a product / product offer, have someone else in the ad’ looking in the direction of the offer.
The question here is: do you want to engage with the user (in which case do you want the eyes on the screen to connect with the eyes of the user), or do you want them to be drawn to a product or service offered on the screen (in which case should the eyes on the screen connect with the product or service)? Something to ponder
But don’t stop with the visuals
But the more I thought about it the more that focusing on the visuals alone seemed to be missing the point. When we port a concept online we have to rework it for the new space. It pays not to be to literal in your interpretation of offline best practice for online. All of which begs the question… what is the ‘face’ of your website and who is it focusing on?
Welcome to my hypothesis…
I reckon the face of your website is your Home page. And in the case of larger sites, you may have several web personalities grouped together, so you might also have ‘faces’ on primary landing pages – such as the start of a big section. I’m a great believer in treating your website with the same respect and governance you would any other member of your organisation, so logic dictates that the Home page is the face. (What do you think?)
So, above and beyond the basics of a good Home page; clear layout, clear and consistent labelling, easy to follow nav, good tone of voice… how do you assess the eye contact?
Here are the basic proportions of a human face:
- traditional rules of proportion (Disagree? Take it up with Vitruvious) show the face divided into six equal squares, two by three
- the upper horizontal section ends at mid-forehead
- the lower at the base of the nose
- the eyes rest on the horizontal centre, the mouth on the centre of the lower third.
Just for fun I then overlaid these proportions on some web Home pages I liked or solicited from others who didn’t know what I planned to do. I situated the top of each Home page at the forehead line.
What I find interesting is just how much important stuff is going on in the mid-face section, around the eyes . And much of the very practical information – including links, T & Cs etc – lines up with the mouth area.
So, lab rats, where are you going with all this?
Firstly, check out how much interesting stuff is going on in and around the eyes above (about the only exception is Philips).
The lab rats are still working on this one but I strikes us that, in terms of the way you evaluate your web (and particularly, Home) page real estate, you might want to draw a smiley face on your wire frames.
1. Is there something your users can make ‘eye contact’ with – a responding human face, other strong visual, focusing information?
2. Is there a face-like quality to the page? (Keep in mind that faces are not totally symmetrical.)
3. How do you ‘feel’ when you engage with your Home page?
Not only is very engaging information concentrated around important facial elements on our examples above, but this content is written and displayed in a very ‘likeable’ way. I don’t think you should disregard the basics, including the role of the F Pattern.
But… it makes you think.
Useful links – each one takes you away from the lab, so we’ve opened them in new windows for you
>> New Scientist article
>> The eyeline of models
>> The F Pattern
>> The cScape Customer Engagement Unit blog (CDA are CEU members)
>> Mark Tyrrell’s new website – Uncommon Help
Useful links within this blog (we want to keep you here, so they open in the same window)
>> Reply-focussed communication
PS I’d be very interested to hear about the role of ‘eye contact’ and conversational tone in Asia where the rules for appropriate interaction are different.