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The Commercial Sign and Pre-Attentive Processing

What do we mean by the pre-attentive processing of a commercial sign?  The idea of a “commercial sign” you probably get.  A sign that identifies a company or goods and services. Pre-attentive processing refers to the workings of the senses and mind prior to a realization of what we are experiencing. The combination holds significance for our branding strategies and the commercial signs we utilize to attract business.

Pre-Attentive Research

And yet there is too little research in this area. For background on visual attention modeling, see Richard Morre’s background narrative.  With new technology we can track eye movement and attention to areas of a scene.  So we can now evaluate the effectiveness of a commercial sign’s ability to attract attention.

Populating the scene used in the research with other features designed to draw attention allows for comparison of the sign both within a given scene and across scenes.  Research demonstrates that areas that include a human face or high contrast tend to attract the most pre-attentive processing time.  Motion is another obvious way to attract such attention.  Application of these methods to streetscapes is beginning to allow us to understand how we react to a scene and the attention a commercial sign attracts.


commercial signs on streetscape
Where is your eye drawn, even before you realize it?

While driving we prioritize our attention and processing to keep us safe and moving towards our destination.  Priorities include the road, traffic signals, other vehicles, and our movement relative to them all.  A secondary task is observing the buildings, people, and commercial and non-commercial signs along the way.  We often switch between the two quickly and can observe a commercial sign, return to process a piece of primary information, and then process the sign we saw. It is the moment of – “Oh, wait, I wanted to stop there,” that we have all experienced.

The design of the commercial sign and the competing environmental factors, determines the amount of attention a commercial sign will receive. As we learn more about pre-attentive processing, we can use this to both improve the safety of our roadways and provide commercial signs that improve businesses.

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