Attentive Design

How to design for sustained & self-controlled attention?

The observation inspiring this thesis is simple: the overabundance of information–available from our digital devices at any moment–has turned attention into a scarcity. What are the (complicated and far-reaching) consequences of this problem? How could we build instead sustained and self-controlled attention with digital design?



The first part of this research looks at different psychological aspects of attention, and our relationship with information as a reward and a powerful need. The second and third part is about how the human mind copes in the attention economy. What are the most popular methods for grabbing our attention, and how do they affect our ability to 'single-task'? According to the flow theory of Csíkszentmihályi, "[t]he shape and content of life depend on how attention has been used." Can we still be happy if we cannot fully attend?

In the last part, I attempt to outline what could be attentive design. The findings are partially based on a handful of interviews I conducted with digital designers, in order to learn from their approach and to get a glimpse of where designing for attention is headed–knowing it would take just as much (or more) time as it took for the current, inattentive design patterns to emerge. Thus the research for attentive design is still wide open.

This thesis forms the theoretical basis for a proposal to represent attention as a connection, which then inspired a design fiction device named Vibe Antenna.


A new, edited version is available at

Table of contents

Information, attention and the brain
What is attention?
Information as a reward and information foraging

Attention and economy
The methods developed to capture attention
Ethical design in the attention economy

How is our mind affected?
Controlling the self and the phone
The trail of the spotlight
Optimal experience as happiness

Getting to attentive design
High-level ideas: manifestos, regulation, legislation
Everyday business struggles
Designer's tools and solutions

Darja Gartner&Jérémie Fontana
Ryan Rumsey
Geoffrey Dorne
Pamela Pavliscak

attentive design thesis book cover with flow pattern

HEAD – Genève | 2018