There are many underlying factors that can subconsciously influence a user’s experience when it comes to UX and UI design – the consideration of cognitive load is one of those factors and it’s more impactful than one might think. Generally, the reduction of cognitive load can heavily reduce confusion in users when they try to navigate a webpage or an app. Here’s how.
Users usually enter interfaces with a certain intent, such as viewing certain pieces of content, sending out emails and messages or browsing for a product. Naturally, the digital experience is worsened if it gets more difficult to reach your goal due to being bombarded with all sorts of unnecessary content – which increases the cognitive load.
Now, what exactly is cognitive load? The cognitive load theory, termed by John Sweller, implies that our decision-making and learning processes perform best when the conditions we’re facing are in alignment with the basic human cognitive architecture. Usually, people’s short-term memory is constrained by a certain number of impressions it can take in at the same time. Hence, the user’s understanding of something depends on the way it is being presented.
Similarly, Hick’s Law suggests that the more choices a user is being given visually, the longer it takes them to make a decision, which can eventually lead to the user becoming annoyed or confused and they most likely leave the website. This is why it’s so crucial to understand that every digital design needs to consider reducing cognitive load: designers consider how to make these choices easier for users and therefore enable a pleasant user experience on the website.
What are designers doing to ease cognitive load?
To improve website efficiency and guide users smoothly, designers constantly think about how they can simplify digital paths that navigate users to their goals while considering an array of processes to achieve the perfect balance of content and presentation on each and every interface.
Designers have to constantly put themselves in the user’s shoes and therefore consider how the digital experience can be as simple and comfortable as possible, which is not necessarily easy when presented with a very large and complex amount of content that the client wants to have integrated into their digital product.
This is how a good designer will usually go about fulfilling the tasks you give them:
They aim to simplify the path. At first thought, it might seem logical to just present the user with many different options, but this creates an overload of information. Consequently, the designer tries to create a clear path that acts as a guide, enabling satisfying navigation with a strong narrative structure through your digital product. Moreover, they work on maintaining consistency and repetitive patterns, information architecture principles as well as adopting taxonomies.
In order to overcome challenges such as cognitive load, designers consider the bigger picture, which means researching the product’s audience, how they will interact with and interpret different digital components and how to apply this to the complexity of the content. All considering the limitations to the user’s cognition.
In a nutshell, less can be more, particularly when it comes to the concept of cognitive load digitally. When users are overwhelmed with information and start feeling frustrated, they might quickly connect these negative feelings with your brand image. Highlighting the importance of effective cognitive design in digital products.