The Squint Test: How quick exposure to design can reveal its flaws


Jeff Gothelf

July 26, 2011

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You’ve put in the hours, worked hard and pushed the pixels around until they’re perfectly positioned. You’re ready to call it quits and deliver your design to the client. Before you ship it though, have you put your design through The Squint Test?

The Squint Test is quite literal – display your design on screen, take a step back and squint your eyes (close them partially to distort your vision). The design should become blurry and only the largest, most basic shapes of the interface should be able to be perceived. The purpose of this is to get a high-level view of the visual hierarchy of your work. What elements stand out? Can you tell where the primary focus should be? Are too many elements on the page confusing the eye?

The Squint Test may sound simple yet it helps designers detach from work they are very close to and get a glimpse of what a new user would see in the first few seconds of the experience. In many ways, this simple tactic puts your design through a quick checklist of Gestalt principles to see if they’ve been applied correctly to achieve your design’s purpose.

What to look for while squinting

Squint test - Usabilla

When applied, the test quickly reveals figure/ground relationships. It becomes very easy to tell if the elements you intended to be background elements are indeed perceived as such and whether the elements you intended to have focus jump off that background. Affordances should be obvious as well as the explicit points of focus in the work. You can then move on to review the arrangement of the elements on the page. The Squint Test will quickly show which elements appear connected based on their linear relationship to other elements as well as proximity to other elements. Elements along similar lines or curves will appear to be connected. By blurring your view temporarily you remove some of the visual clutter that text blocks and other ornamental design elements add to the experience.

Continuing through this virtual checklist, the test begins to reveal whether a similar treatment was used for elements that may not actually be related. Taking this less refined view of the design exposes this perceived similarity which may not have been your original intention.

If the design you created contains a large number of elements in a complex structure, taking this approach helps you realize which elements the human eye will tie together quickly in that layout. Humans tend to try to find a single pattern in a complex setting first to orient their vision and drive the next decision. As you step back from the work, intentional or unintentional patterns arise which will likely pull your user’s eye. Ensure that this is indeed the desired outcome and that the appropriate calls to action are available in those areas of the design.

Use it well

Ultimately, The Squint Test is a simple tactic to help put some objectivity between you and your design. It is meant as a quick gut check to ensure that the intended outcome of the design is achieved and the work is headed in the right direction. It is not meant as a replacement for quantitative and qualitative measurement of the work, nor should it be used to determine brand aesthetics. It gives the designer another way to assess the structure of the design and determine the efficacy of its layout and visual hierarchy.

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