Show the Way: Directional Cues in User Interfaces

directional cues in user interfaces design article 3

Telling the user often needn’t be as explicit as having the instructions in written form. Through good design, we can tell the user what is being displayed or required through subtle design expression, which can be instead of or supplementary to text.

What are directional cues?

Directional cues are visual aids, like arrows or the eye gaze of a model, that point toward the most important elements of your post-click landing page, e.g. your lead capture form, CTA, video, testimonials, or information below the fold.

There are two basic types of directional cues: implicit and explicit directional cues.

Implicit directional cues on post-click landing pages

Implicit directional cues are subtle, often go unnoticed by visitors. The most common types include white space, color contrast, and encapsulation.

White space

White space is the negative space or empty area of your post-click landing page that helps attract attention to specific elements. Adding white space can help simplify your page, improve user experience, and increase overall comprehension of your offer. That’s because, with fewer elements to focus on, visitors are forced to look at what you want them to.

directional cues white space

Color contrast

Contrasting colors serve as a directional cue because the stark color differences make visitors pay attention to that area.

directional cues color contrast cta


Encapsulation, or the framing of elements, is another way to highlight what’s important on the page by creating an enclosed window of focus. Designers often do this with boxes, outlines, and/or contrasting colors to reduce page clutter and draw attention to specific elements.

directional cues encapsulation

Explicit directional cues on post-click landing pages

Explicit cues are glaringly obvious to the human eye compared to implicit cues so they can typically be spotted immediately. Eye gaze, pointing or gesturing, strategic object positioning, arrows, and lines all comprise this group.

Eye gaze

Using human eye gaze as a directional cue is especially effective on post-click landing pages. People tend to look at what others are looking at, so if someone on screen looks at a form, the visitor is more likely to take notice of the form as well. This technique subconsciously influences visitors to look where you want and adds personal appeal, too.

directional cues testimonial

Gesturing or Pointing

Though this technique isn’t as subtle as using eye gaze, some opt to have a model point or gesture toward a critical element to get visitors to focus on that area. There’s always a chance the gesture may appear unnatural, so it’s crucial to split test your pages with different gestures to determine what provides the best results.

poiting directional cue

Object positioning

Positioning images so that they’re pointed toward a particular focus area draws prospects’ attention and makes that particular element more noticeable.

directional cues object positioning


Whether it’s moving or stationary, arrows are one of the most commonly used explicit directional cues because they are simple and easily understood.

directional cues arrows


Lines are one of the less obvious cues, but since humans tend to naturally follow paths, they can be quite useful on post-click landing pages. That’s because linear directional cues can guide visitors through different parts of your page or to help prospects stay focused on specific sections of the page.

directional cues lines

How User Interface Directional Cues Influence User Experience

Directional cues:

  • Make it easier to navigate around a website.
  • Improve visual hierarchy
  • Ensure the screen or page is scannable.
  • Improve conversion rates

Though your copy, form, headline, and call to action (CTA) are indeed crucial for driving conversions, these elements only make up a portion of the user experience. Adding directional cues, both implicit and explicit, helps to ensure your prospects focus their attention on what matters most to your conversion goal.


Grabbing your website visitors’ attention doesn’t have to be using something obvious like a big .gif banner with your call to action button. Doing it subtly using visual cues would improve the overall design of your website, but still gives the same effect. 

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