When you look at the picture below, what is the first thing that you notice?
The carving on the pillar?
The purple flower?
Or were your eyes first drawn to the woman’s face?
Research shows that when we are drawn to human faces more than any other element in a design that includes pictures of people. If the person is looking at us, we are drawn to their eyes. If the person is looking away, we follow their gaze.
This is a powerful piece of insight for designers because it can help us focus attention on the most important message we want to convey. Look at the following images. Which one draws your eye to the message?
In the second picture, the woman’s gaze is directed toward the text. Since we are inclined to follow her gaze, our eyes are naturally drawn to the words. That is where we would want to put the most important message in our design, and put supporting details elsewhere.
Knowing that we are drawn to human faces and that our eyes are drawn to follow the sightline of people in photographs who are looking away can also help us decide where to put a given illustration if we want to include a photo to the side of a larger block of text. We want the person in the photo to be looking toward the words. If they are facing left, we will put the image on the right. If they are facing right, we will put the image on the left.