von restorf effect cover photo
min. leestijd
Legal UX

Laws of UX and Legal Design: Exploring the Von Restorff Effect

Discover the powerful Von Restorff Effect in UX and Legal Design. Learn how to make important information memorable through visual distinction. Discover examples and techniques for increasing user attention in legal contracts.
Bilgehan Arifoglu

What is Von Restorff Effect

The Von Restorff effect, also known as The Isolation Effect, predicts that when multiple similar objects are present, the one that differs from the rest is most likely to be remembered.

Why it matters

Making important information visually distinguishable makes your client aware of what must be remembered.

The theory

The theory was coined by German psychiatrist and pediatrician Hedwig von Restorff (1906–1962), who, in her 1933 study, found that when participants were presented with a list of categorically similar items with one distinctive, isolated item on the list, memory for the outstanding item was improved.

Examples of the Von Restorff Effect

The red tomato is one of the most famous examples of the Von Restorff Effect. Look at this image below:

basket of apples, one of them is red, others are green
Image by Practical Psychology

Your eyes will be directly pointed at that red tomato, right? So, your brain and eyes will now focus on the red object because it differs from others.

Suppose you prepare a legal contract with lots of information. In that case, if you highlight a text, that information will be more remembered than others.

Or you put an exclamation mark icon near to indicate the presence of information that matters. In that case, your users will likely remember that information.

Von Restorff Effect and Legal Design

When creating and designing your contracts, you must put different visuals, icons, and texts to gain users' attention. Hence, they always take advantage of every essential point.

Laptop screen showing our privacy policy design page
In this privacy policy example, we pick the most vital part and put it in a bright green box to indicate its importance. Linking the privacy policy to a cash box also visually draws the user in and gives it meaning. ©Patroon.nl

When people see things that seem to go on and on in the same way, long and tiring, they tend to go on autopilot. On autopilot, they could miss some words and essential messages. Remember, when you read a book, you suddenly daydream and miss a few paragraphs. You leave daydreaming when one piece of information in a section is different and exciting from the others. Even though there is no clear indication with visuals or icons, your brain will work unconsciously to leave daydreaming.

hpyontic image

Road hypnosis is the same thing with this daydreaming situation. Your mind will daydream when the road goes long, straight, and dull until a clear indication of a vital mark or a possibility of an accident. After seeing these indications, your brain will immediately wake up and save the situation.

Gain your users' attraction.

Consistency in the general design of your contract is good for the sustainability of your contract, but make sure you put suitable nudging icons or visuals to gain back your users' attention because people tend to get distracted after a couple of seconds.

  • Use bold paragraphs that you consider important
  • You can highlight the text with a natural highlighter color
  • Icons to separate sections by importance or topic.
  • A picture is worth a thousand words; using appropriate visuals is good.

You can read more about laws of UX series here.