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How to minimize cognitive load to improve usability

Sheza Naveed

In the context of user experience, cognitive load refers to the number of mental resources that a user needs to invest to use the system.

Intrinsic vs. extraneous cognitive load

Intrinsic cognitive load refers to the effort of taking in new information and then keeping track of the changes and other things associated with that information, such as the progress status of a request.

Extraneous cognitive load refers to the processes that use mental resources but do not help users understand the content, such as font styles do not convey any unique meaning.

While intrinsic load cannot be avoided mostly, it is essential to minimize the extraneous cognitive load.

Intrinsic vs extraneous load

Minimizing cognitive load

To improve user experience, it is essential to reduce cognitive load. Following guidelines can help in cognitive load reduction:

  • Use the existing mental models used by interfaces belonging to the same domain as yours. As users are already used to them, they do not have to put in extra effort to learn new things.

  • Avoid clutter on the interface, including irrelevant images and text, overly fancy fonts, etc., and other typography elements that do not provide any meaningful information—these elements slow users down.

  • Offload tasks by seeing if any information can be provided in a way that puts less cognitive load on the user. Any text that can be replaced by pictures, any settings that can be set to default, and any information that can be conveyed concisely should be done so.

Conclusion

The guidelines cannot eliminate cognitive load completely as that is not possible in most interfaces. However, they can significantly reduce it, thus improving the user experience.

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Sheza Naveed
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