Reducing Cognitive Load for Better User experience

Reducing Cognitive Load for Better User experience

What is Cognitive Psychology in User Experience Design?

Cognitive psychology involves the study of internal mental processes—all of the things that go on inside your brain, including perception, thinking, memory, attention, language, problem-solving, and learning. In terms of UX design, cognitive psychology focuses on the way in which people acquire, process and store information within their brain.

Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of mental processes such as attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, creativity, and reasoning. - Wikipedia

In cognitive psychology, Cognitive load refers to the total amount of information your working memory can handle. It is the strain a user experiences when he/she has to think too much just to get something done. Anything task that requires users to stop and figure out what to do next is cognitive load. When there is too much thinking, the result is a confused user who is on the edge of abandoning your product. Cognitive overload happens when your working memory receives more information than it can handle comfortably, leading to frustration and compromised decision-making.

Why is Cognitive Psychology an Important Part of a Good User Experience?

Users interaction with a product involves lot of cognitive processes, such as thinking, remembering, learning and decision making. Understanding how these humans' cognitive process works, can help UX designers work around psychological barriers and create easy-to-navigate, readable and accessible designs.

What are Some Examples of Cognitive Load in apps or websites?

Smashingmagazine cites two great examples of websites with cognitive overload namely:

  1. Lingscars

2. Arngren

Though these lean towards the side of extreme cognitive overload, they also serve as good practical examples of how overwhelming it can be when various elements with bright colors and  animations are competing for user's attention.

What are Some of the Negative Effects of Cognitive Load in User Experience?

Cognitive load has a direct impact on a product usability and overall user experience, and if it is not properly worked out, it can reduce the user's ability to make decision and consume a lot of the user's time and mental resources. Some of the negative effects of cognitive loads are as follows:

  • Visual inconsistency as a result of ambiguous User Interface
  • Choice complexity when there are too many options (Hicks Law)
  • Difficulties navigating an interface or completing a task
  • Too much content to consume
  • Longer decision making time for users

How can Cognitive Load be Reduced when Designing Digital Products?

Reducing cognitive load can take the form of:

  • Summaries: grouping information until there’s need for more details. Collapsible navigation elements are fitting examples here.
  • Use of graphical representations can help users process information more easily and also break up monotony in the flow of information.

Information with lots of data points can be better processed by users when presented in charts

  • Progressive onboarding: this affects cognitive load both in terms of what the user has to read and information the user has to provide at once. It can be beneficial to only ask for information when it’s needed. An obvious example would be to ask for address details at checkout instead of during sign up.
  • Using data to assess what is most valuable to users. There might be opportunities to remove some information without impacting their experience negatively.
  • Sorting information to make it easier for users to scan.


Whether simplifying the complex, or just making more considered design choices, there’s no doubt that reducing cognitive load will help customers and clients make better choices and improve their overall experience with your product. For designers, a common goal when designing interfaces would be to keep users’ cognitive load to a minimum. The lesser the cognitive load, the less the effort needed to process information and make decision, the easier it is for users to reach their goals