Design theories for marketers: How to grab attention

Design theories for marketers: How to grab attention

When creating ads there are multiple important factors to consider.


If you don’t grab people’s attention, they’ll never see your ad.

Therefore: Grabbing attention lays the foundation for the rest of your marketing efforts.

If people don’t pay attention to your ads they will never see your message. Period.


The power of attention in marketing

How well your ads are at grabbing attention is highly correlated with the overall performance of the ad. It’s simple math: 

If you lose half your viewers because of a boring start they’ll never see the rest of your ad—and not convert.

But the ones that are still watching your ad are likely to have built up interest in your ad (and probably your product too).

PRO TIP: 85% of Facebook users watch videos with the sound off. Remember this, so you don’t use sound to grab the attention of your potential customers. 

On social media 65% of people who watch the first 3 seconds of a video, watch for at least 10 seconds. 

In other words: If you have grabbed their attention (the first 3 seconds) they are very likely to invest more of their time in your ad. That’s what we are aiming at.

Design theory is great at grabbing attention

It takes us 50 milliseconds to form a first impression of your ad.

50 milliseconds—that’s 0.05 seconds!

Knowing this you can wonder what can you do in order to form a great first impression. So you will get the attention and build interest afterwards.

Now your viewer is not able to read or understand anything in 0.05 seconds which is why the overall design is the only thing you can adjust to form a better first impression. 

The visual design is simply the only thing the customer can base the first impression upon—which is why design theory is so important.


Design theory can sound boring for a marketer – but oh boy is it important.

Put simply, design theory is a collection of small theories that explains how and why design works. 

And more important for you: Rule of thumbs you can use to get better performance.

The short marketer-guide to design theory

Okay so let’s make an easy list for you to use in your ads.

There is a lot of different theories, but some of the most effective to understand is:

Rule of thirds: The guideline proposes that a creative should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines. Important elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections in order to create harmony.


Lightning and saturation: We see light elements before we see dark elements and we see colored elements before we see grayscale elements. 

Remember that colors have different amounts of light in them, so the most optimized combination based on this is a light-yellow object on a dark blue or black background.

Contrast: A very important theory to learn is the theory about contrast. It’s pretty simple and pretty important – just like we like it. 

What you should basically be aware of is that there is a lot of contrast (difference) between the product and background for example – or the text and the product, the text and the background and so on.

It can be very effective that the elements you want to direct attention to has a high contrast of everything else – just like the black protein powder box has a high contrast to the background (light brown) and the text (white).


Color theory: If you have a color wheel (The circle with colors above) there’s different ways to use colors. What color theory does is create harmony for your eyes – which makes sure that it’s pleasing to look at your ad.

Even though “harmony” and “pleasing for eyes” sounds like minor benifits for most marketers the effect is has is enormous – especially for gaining attention.

Without proper color theory your creatives can quickly become disturbing or “not right” to look at. You know the subjective feeling you get when somethings is not looking right – but you don’t know what it is.

The following color theories are the most used, and something you can easily implement – that will make it easier for you to earn and keep the attention:

attention 5 colorwheel

Never, ever, be disturbing

With these rules of thumb regarding design theory you might only need the last tip we often see especially marketers do: 

Overfilling creatives with too much elements, making the creative disturbing to look at. 

When the creative is easy to look at (eg not disturbing) our eyes will happily see the creative after it has scanned it.

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If the creative on the opposite hand is hard to look at (eg disturbing) our brain will automatically filter the creative away in order to save energy.

It’s simply an overload of information for the brain.

Simply put: If you have a disturbing background with multiple elements like price, brand-name, sale-badge, an overlay too and alike – a very disturbing creative filled with elements – potential customers will probably scroll just pass your ad.

PRO TIP: Make it easy for even a very drunk person to understand what your creative is about – you can’t grab attention from customers if they scroll past your creative because of overload of information.

This was a short introduction to design theory – why it is important for marketers to understand – and a few theories you can use to better grab attention.

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