Design Principles for Reducing Cognitive Load

A16eb159db895e3b01d3dc95767ad595?s=47 Jon Yablonski
November 11, 2015

Design Principles for Reducing Cognitive Load

Every time you visit a website, a process of learning is initiated in the brain. Whether it’s the navigation, layout, or that auto-rotating image slider on the homepage, your brain has to learn how to use the site while keeping track of the reason you came there in the first place. The mental effort required during this time is called cognitive load. Now the catch: the working memory in which this information is processed and stored is limited. Your brain begins to slow down or even abandon the task at hand when it receives more information than it can handle. Although cognitive load isn’t entirely avoidable, designers must strive to manage and accommodate these limits.

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Jon Yablonski

November 11, 2015
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  1. Design Principles for Reducing Cognitive Load UX Methodologies 1/1 Jon

    Yablonski
  2. 2 Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load What is Cognitive

    Load?
  3. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 3 Every time you

    visit a website or opens an app, a process of learning is initiated in the brain. Whether it’s the navigation, layout, or that auto-rotating image slider on the homepage, your brain has to learn how to use the site while keeping track of the reason you came there in the first place.
  4. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 4 The mental effort

    required during this time is called cognitive load.
  5. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 5 Much like a

    computer, the human brain has a limited amount of processing power. When new information that is coming in exceeds your ability to process it in working memory, your brain begins to slow down, which in turn affects performance. This inevitably leads to frustration or even task abandonment.
  6. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 6 Cognitive load isn’t

    entirely avoidable, but we as designers must strive to manage and accommodate these limits by understanding them.
  7. 7 Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load What Causes Cognitive

    Load?
  8. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 8 To understand how

    to reduce cognitive load, we must first understand what causes it. Generally speaking, the causes of cognitive load can be traced back to three main factors, each of which will requires processing and takes up mental resources that doesn’t actually help users understand the content. 1. Too Many Choices 2. Too Much Thought Required 3. Lack of Clarity
  9. 9 Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load How Can We

    Reduce Cognitive Load?
  10. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 10 01/07 Avoid Unnecessary

    Elements Like everything in design, less is more. Any element that isn’t helping the user achieve their goal is working against them because they must process it and store it in working memory, alongside the things that will help them. Avoiding excessive colors, imagery, design flourishes, or layouts that don’t add value is crucial. But simplicity comes with a caveat: don’t overvalue it at the cost of clarity. Related: The 5 Most Common Design Mistakes UX Myths
  11. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 11 02/07 Leverage Common

    Design Patterns By leveraging common design patterns when it makes sense, you are giving the user familiar elements which they already understand. This in turn reduces the amount of learning they need to do, thus enabling them to move right along and get closer to achieving their goal. Related: Design Patterns on CodePen Mental Models
  12. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 12 03/07 Eliminate Unnecessary

    Tasks Anywhere you are asking the user to read content, remember information or make a decision contributes to cognitive load. Whenever possible, it is good to shift these tasks away from the user and make it easier for them to stay focused on their goal. While it isn’t possible to remove all tasks, there is usually an opportunity to offload some task by setting defaults that can be edited, or leveraging previously entered information. Some companies are even taking this a step further with anticipatory design. Related: Anticipatory Design
  13. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 13 04/07 Minimize Choices

    As previously mentioned, our working memory is limited. When confronted with too many choices, cognitive load will increase due to decision paralysis. It is important that we minimize the choices the user must make at any given moment, especially in places such as navigation, forms, and drop-downs. Related: Decision Paralysis
  14. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 14 05/07 Display Choices

    as a Group When choices are split into separate groups and hidden, users often mistake the options that are visible as the complete group. This means that users are likely to never find the additional choices, which not only limits what is available to them, but also makes it more difficult to decide on which option to select because they are not aware of the alternatives. Therefore, it is best to eliminate the resulting cognitive load by always displaying choices as a group. Related: Cognitive & The Intristic User Experience
  15. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 15 06/07 Strive for

    Readability Making our content legible isn’t enough — we need to make it readable. This means our typography must be aesthetically pleasing, appropriate for the content and easy to read while design remains relatively invisible. By doing this, we can ensure there are as little distractions as possible for the user, which results in a better understanding of the content by the user. Related: How We Read
  16. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 16 07/07 Use Iconography

    with Caution Research has shown that iconography can be hard to memorize and, contrary to intuition, can increase cognitive load by requiring mental processing to infer meaning or recognize. While universally understood icons work well (ie. print, close, play/ pause, reply, tweet, share on Facebook), most are subject to the user’s understanding based on previous experience (in which there is no standard). When leveraging the power of iconography, it is best to accompany them with text labels to communicate the meaning and reduce ambiguity. Related: Icon Usability
  17. Design Principles For Reducing Cognitive Load 17 By following these

    principles, you can drastically reduce the user’s cognitive load and ensure their attention isn’t being wasted on elements that do not help them. It is important to remember that the user has a goal, whether it is to buy a product, understand something or simply to learn more about the content. The less they have to think about what they need to do to achieve their goal, the more likely it is they will achieve it.