Minimizing cognitive load in design


Yesterday, I wrote on the three things I believe to be important in design.

I’d like to delve a little more into minimizing cognitive load. It sounds like a simple statement, but actually means a lot.

Minimizing cognitive load means that you respect the user’s time and attention. They are using your product to get something done, and you want to enable them to do it with as little extra mental processing as possible.

Minimizing cognitive load means reducing extraneous clutter. Clutter makes a page difficult to process. The user must filter through several bits of information before finding what really matters to them.

Similar to clutter, minimizing cognitive load means reducing distractions. The unfortunate part is that for most websites on the internet, ads count as clutter. They provide little value and act as something the user must dodge.

Minimizing cognitive load involves an understanding of the user’s attention and focus. At any given point, what are they trying to do? How do you make it as easy as possible for them to accomplish this? This requires a great deal of empathy for the user.

Minimizing cognitive load involves an understanding of the user’s habits and behaviors. Are there common behaviors performed by the user? What are the most important things your user does? What patterns of behaviors do your users have? How do you design in order to make these behaviors as streamlined as possible for your user?

Minimizing cognitive load tends to imply simplicity. Distilling a product to its core concepts makes it easier for the user to figure out what is going on. However, don’t over simplify. A product which is over simplified can be confusing and difficult to figure out.

Can you think of anything else? The more I think about design, the more I believe that enabling the user while minimizing cognitive load is one of the most difficult parts of design. If you know of any good resources or tips, I would love to hear them.

P.S. This is post number #84 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Or, check out my current project Soulmix.

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