Review: The Smarter Screen

If you’re reading this on a screen, let me tell you there are better ways you can do it.
Or at least, that’s what I’ve learned with Shlomo Benartzi’s book “The Smarter Screen: Surprising Ways to Influence and Improve Online Behavior”, which offers solutions to improve our digital lives by managing the surplus of digital information and our relation with screens.

Disclaimer:  book kindly sent by publisher/PR agency .

“a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”
— Herbert Simon

The book starts by recognising that we’re mostly not paying attention and those companies and services that excel at controlling attention can easily charge more, with Online Travel Agents given as an example.
With our working memory increasingly smaller, it’s important to find ways to provide shortcuts and ease the cognitive load on screens, making us less vulnerable to the limits of attention.  From writing less verbose copy to listicles, each time we don’t compete for limited attention, we win.

“It’s not that screens are making us more superficial. Rather, the world of screens merely makes it easier for us to act on these superficial first impressions”

The author provides at a few examples on how we process information on screens, even at an unconscious level, before we get a chance to analyse the information, similar to Motivational Research studies done in advertising in the 50’s.  We think different on screens, from first impressions on Tinder to buying more expensive items when on mobile,  which highlights the importance on how we build experiences on screens, besides content and imagery.

“In a world of screens, the act of looking has never mattered more”

According to Katherina Reinecke’s research described on the book, and which you can explore at, colourfulness and visual complexity are key variables determining our aesthetic preferences on screens,  influencing the way we trust brands online or amplifying how we behave on screens,  and even determining the success or failure of brands.

Using screens is also about feedback, and managing the volume of information provided, a challenge to be reckoned as Internet Of Things will make it harder to process all this data available. The author also discusses the issue of dishinibition effect we face on Yelp reviews or Facebook comments, and how we deal with not having other people around. Note of warning: avoid ordering food online – we make less nutritional choices as we’re less worried about what other people think.

Another practical tip I found on the book, that curiously I used unconsciously on my Kindle/iPad, was changing the reading font for better comprehension when in learning mode. A lack of spatio-temporal markers on screens leads to reduce reading comprehension, so a disfluent font (uglier or less common) will slow us down and allow us to process information better. It’s similar to note taking: we do it better on paper than on a laptop.

We don’t want endless possibilities.

What we really crave is effective curation.

In the real world we usually have a limited set of choices, but online they multiply, and not in a good way. The websites offering better routes and less possibilities usually succeed, with consideration sets being a way to deal with too many alternatives and too little time. From category filters to personalisation, online services can find better shortcuts and influence consumer choices.

The book is a good entry point for those interested in UX or those working in advertising trying to influence decisions on screens. It’s somewhere between Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make me Think” and Heath’s “Decisive”, mixing research with practical consideration on how to be smarter when using our screens.

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