Cognitive Overload – Biggest Enemy of UX Design and How to Fight It
You know what happens when your phone runs too many heavy applications for too long. Yes, the phone freezes, even crashes at times. Now sure the human brain is a far more sophisticated piece of machinery, but it has its limits too. If your users have to do a lot of work just to use your app, they will get tired of it and move on to a different solution. If they are required to read, understand or type too much, answer too many questions or make too many choices, they experience what is called cognitive overload, and this cognitive overload is the biggest enemy of UX design.
Today’s app users have roughly two million apps to choose from. With a list of options so long, and attention spans shorter than a child’s, it is hard to retain your users unless your app offers them an unmatched user experience. Aside from solving the user’s problem and giving them what they want, your app must also be very easy to use and understand. So minimizing cognitive load must be a top priority for UX designers. Here are 5 ways to make sure your app is easy to use, without sacrificing quality
How to Cognitive Overload
1. Stick to the Basic UX Design Conventions To Avoid Cognitive Overload
Predictable might mean boring in the world of movies, music or art, but in the world of UX design, it means ease of access. An ‘x’ means close, a backward arrow means go back, an envelope means messages and so on. The ‘go back’ functions usually sit on the left and the ‘move forward’ functions are on the right. Feels familiar?
There are some design patterns that have just cemented themselves into the human psyche so well that they seem like nature. Sure you want to break the rules and think out of the box but you also want to appeal to millions of users – users who have busy lives and too much work to do anyway. Your app shouldn’t be another ‘learning experience’ to them. They want a simple means to an end, a shortcut to get something done. So don’t reinvent the wheel and try to adhere to commonly accepted UX design conventions as much as possible.
2. Avoid Visual Clutter
Even if it looks great or augments your message, too much imagery and graphics can be a major distraction. Not only do they make the app sluggish but also add to the user’s cognitive load. That is why it is crucial to keep your interface clean. Don’t use too many flashy images, moving text and large graphics in UX design.Since mobile screens are small, use images very carefully.
- Few large and clear images are always better than many tiny unclear ones.
- If you have clickable images, don’t mix them with plain images.
- Optimize images to adapt to different screen sizes.
- Use effective and easy scrolling methods. Avoid complicated carousels or filmstrips unless you really need them.
- Use the right font that is clear and legible across platforms and devices.
3. Minimize the User’s Work
Clicking and typing add to the amount of work a user needs to do, so do everything you can to minimize it.
- Use smart defaults and form autofill to minimize typing in forms.
- Auto-detect city and state from the zip code, when asking for address.
- Use placeholder text and examples to help users understand what to enter. This will help minimize errors.
- Use autocorrect to rectify simple errors.
- Keep forms short and ask only what you absolutely need. Eliminate any non-essential form fields.
- Minimize the amount of reading a user has to do. Avoid using large chunks of text for explanations. Use pictures, animations and video tutorials. Try to stay away from text tutorials.
4. Help Users Make Choices
There’s a reason that successful people like Barack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg stick to a few limited choices of outfits for everyday clothing. Too many options confuse people and lead to decision fatigue. This is a paradox as it may seem like plenty of options is a good thing but in reality, it’s the other way round. So make sure your users don’t find themselves in a state of confusion.
- Use smart analytics to understand user behavior and present only the relevant choices to each user.
- Categorize options and use collapsible menus to make the interface look clean.
5. Understand How People Read Webpages
An eye-tracking study by the Nielsen Norman Group observed that users follow the F-Pattern when reading online. This means that users read the headline, do a quick downward scan and then read the sub-heading horizontally, before proceeding to quickly scan the remaining content vertically. This information points to a sweet spot in page design. You should put your best information in the areas that users look at the most, to grab their attention.
- Use an informative, catchy, medium length headline.
- Use short sentences and quality sub-headings.
- Make paragraph openings attractive
The above 5 steps should serve as a guide to UX designers who want to keep their apps lean, mean and powerful. The idea is to make sure users can get from point A to point B with as little trouble as possible, so you don’t make your website design cognitive overload. Users shouldn’t have to read through a user manual. The UX must be as self explanatory as possible because your users have limited attention spans and let’s face it, limited time. They will simply uninstall an app that is difficult to use, and switch to a simpler alternative. You can successfully avoid that by keeping your UX design simple, light and engaging. These tips will help you cut out cognitive load and keep your users happy.