Our job as designers is to create experiences that people will not notice. Remove obstacles that would otherwise lead to cognitive load and barriers. Help people preserve brainpower and avoid frustration.
I have taught students and mentored new designers to simplify their layouts and workflows. However, we have rarely talked about how our work can impact stress levels and create negative associations with a product or a brand.
A Brief explanation of Cognitive Load
The amount of mental effort your working memory can handle is cognitive load. We experience cognitive overload when our working memories receive more information than we can confidently process. This often leads in increased anxiety.
Examples of Cognitive Load
Number of choicesIt has become more important for UX designers to understand decision architecture to determine the natural pivot points. Our designs should help people quickly make the right choice.
Amount of thoughtWe should also consider when it is appropriate for people to take time to make a decision. In some cases, we want people to pause before they do something that permanently affects a system. In other cases, we can remove complexity to allow them to move forward.
Confusion of choicePeople will abandon their tasks when they are faced with a choice they either do not understand or are not mentally capable of making. We can often point our fingers at confusing UI and terminology. People should not have to spend time figuring out their next step or interpreting icons.
A Brief explanation of Cognitive Barriers
Cognitive barrier refers to anything that prevents us from completing necessary tasks to reach a goal.
Examples of Cognitive Barriers
Number of stepsEarly on people started to adopt the idea that it should take three clicks to get anything done. We know now this is a broad generalization for how to simplify experiences across Web and mobile. Nonetheless, the notion is for designers to reduce the steps required to the right balance of number, length, and difficulty. Four easy steps may be more appropriate than one imposing step.
Time between stepsIt is not a simple choice of taking a few difficult steps and breaking them into more simple steps. As designers, we have to consider if we are designing the most logical journey. Are we exposing organizational bureaucracy and passing complexity on to the user?
In product, we live in an environment of constant refinement. When creating a product that promises to remove complexity, we have to examine and reexamine how we approach our solutions. With pressure to innovate, we have to be on guard to avoid bloat that plagues mature products.
Is this all new to you? Start here!
Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (3rd Edition) (Voices That Matter)
“The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information” by George Miller
“Why Your Memory Sucks” by Thorin Klosowski