Most of us experience cognitive overload. When we run too many programs simultaneously on our laptops, often programs crash or slow down. So what do we do? We close applications and programs that are not in use and thus boost the performance. The same kind of processing problem occurs with human brains, which is commonly referred to as cognitive load. The solution also follows the same logic and insists on minimizing. Basically, it’s all about fitting the cognitive elements to the capacity of our brains. The same goes for the mobile user experience.
When processing too much information at the same time, the mobile user experience suffers and can cause customers to concentrate on the least important elements of the UI. Customers who are exposed to too much information can actually misunderstand, miss vital aspects, get confused and even leave an interface midway through. So, cognitive overload can literally have a lethal impact on the user experience.
To address the situation you need a systematic approach that begins with a complete understanding of the core concept followed by steps to eliminate such load.
What exactly is cognitive load?
Since we’re talking about cognitive load in the face of the user experience (UX), it’s important to define UX, which refers to customer reactions and perceptions when using your web interface. What is their perception about your app? Is your app intuitive and easy to navigate? Is it confusing for customers to perform certain actions? Are the visual elements repulsive or charming? Do customers need to spend a lot of energy to use your app? All of these aspects are intrinsic to your user experience.
The amount of energy required for learning something or accessing an interface is referred to as the cognitive load. All of the elements that unnecessarily make the web experience heavier, or are confusing and complex, contribute to cognitive overload. Any user experience will invariably have some cognitive load because customers need to spend energy learning how to use or navigate through an app. Such cognitive load is part and parcel of mobile and app experiences in general; it’s unavoidable.
User experience without cognitive overload
What does cognitive load look like in our day-to-day mobile activities? Let’s use Google as an example. Google is devoid of any unnecessary elements except for what is necessary to help you in your search. Aside from the main search options, other features remain hidden and only show up when you call upon them. While offering fully fledged customization for your search, Google offers an easy to use interface without unnecessary elements. Their minimalistic UX is the best example of how to minimize cognitive overload through design.
What causes cognitive load?
Before you can actually design a mobile user experience without cognitive overload, you need to understand the contributing factors behind it.
Here are the three main factors that create cognitive overload:
Too many options: Offering too many options for an action or choice may be overwhelming for the user and it can result in indecisiveness.
Too complex: The most important thing is to ensure simplicity of design to allow quick access to features and easy navigation.
Lack of clarity and straight forward direction: The interface should be clean, clutter free, and straightforward to help users fulfill their purpose quickly.
All of these factors contribute to the difficulty and complexity of your mobile user experience and slow down customers from getting what they came for.
How to minimize cognitive load
Now that you know the factors behind cognitive overload, you can take positive steps to reduce it.
Here are a few effective methods:
Embrace a minimal design
Less is the new ‘more’ in mobile design. A minimal design is necessary to engage your audience. Any on-page elements that are not contributing to the purpose or objective of the customer are counterproductive and should be shrugged off. Avoid flashy design with too many visual distractions, colors, images, and design effects.
Stick to the convention with common design patterns
Some mobile design elements are easily understood because they are familiar and commonplace. If you stick to these basic design elements you can create a UX that’s easy to understand. Along with minimizing the time required by the user to understand your interface, it sets them at ease.
Remove unnecessary tasks
If you are suggesting customers do too many things within your app, it adds on to the cognitive load tremendously. This actually causes a distraction for customers and can deviate them from what they intended to do. Instead of this, brands can use anticipatory design to help customers perform tasks faster.
Naturally, offering customers too many options will paralyze their decision-making process and add confusion. It is important to offer a limited number of options at any given moment. Offering too many choices will be a distraction rather than an enhancement.
Insist on readability
You have created unique and quality content throughout your app, but if your contents are not easily readable and accessible, you’re ensuring it won’t be consumed. To ensure readability use visually pleasing, easy-to-read typography.
Use icons diligently
Using icons in mobile design requires a few important considerations. First of all, icons are not easy to memorize and hence require more brain power. By using universally recognized icons that are instantly understood you can make it easy for your customers to navigate your interface. But, if you choose to use icons that are less conventional, accompany them with text.
With so many design elements available to include in your mobile UX, creating involuntary load on customers’ understanding of how your app works is not unlikely. To avoid unnecessary cognitive load, remain critical of your UX and eliminate elements that create unnecessary distractions.
Customers coming to your app should instantly feel comfortable navigating your app and finding things they need. To strip off cognitive overload from your UX, take a minimalist approach to your mobile app design. In the end, making your app easy to use will help increase your retention and customer satisfaction.
Questions? Comments? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below!
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