kei’s notes

Peripheral vision enhances discoverability

Peripheral vision offers in situ context on matters. A book next to your work computer means something in the book is related to work. Margin notes on a page carries the significance of the notes to the surrounding paragraphs.

  • ‘If I mark up a physical book, then later flip through to see my margin notes, I’ll always see them in the context of the surrounding text. By contrast, digital annotation listings usually display only the text I highlighted, removed from its context. The primary “unit” in such systems is a single highlight or note, but that’s not how I think. Margin marks have fuzzy boundaries, and I often think of a page’s worth of markings as a single unit.’1

For reading in the digital environment, annotations have been built to emulate peripheral margin notes (e.g. memos in PDF, browser plug-ins with a side pane of notes which links back to highlights in body text). But when a file or a web page is closed, rediscoverability remains an issue. A digital file is still less tangible or remarkable by appearance in comparison with a physical object or material.

A messy desk helps creativity2. It provides triggers and affordance of ideas which are encapsulated in surrounding objects. It favours cross-context touchpoints/junctions if you are working on multiple topics at the same time.

This is similar to having secondary or even tertiary UI elements, which may at times intrigue our curiosity to interact with them. They need not be blastingly flashy, but can remain subtle when we have some attention to spare.

Last update: 2020-07-26

  1. Matuschak, Andy. ‘Peripheral vision’. Andyʼs working notes. Accessed 15 May 2020.
  2. Coffman, Drew. Transform Your Creative Process with Roam Research. YouTube, 1 May 2020, Accessed 15 May 2020.
Peripheral vision enhances discoverability