Just because we’re Humans

Human brains have a limited amount of processing power. We can run out of memory like computers. When the amount of information we get exceeds our ability to handle it, our memory suffers. We forget the things and constantly put a lot of mental efforts into concentrating. It causes cognitive load.

When talking about UX design, the cognitive load caused by a user interface means the number of mental resources required to operate the system.

What does make us overloaded?

Intrinsic complexity

Intrinsic cognitive load is the effort of absorbing new information. Such a kind of cognitive overload is caused by the complexity of a product and its features. Good user interface design can significantly improve the situation. However, the more complicated a product or mobile app is, the greater the intrinsic overload it may cause.

Extraneous overload

Extraneous cognitive load means processing that takes up mental resources but doesn’t actually help users understand the content. That’s where designers can improve the situation. Strive not to overload a user with superfluous decorative UI: distracting animations, misunderstood interactions, and the excessive amount of pictures — all this can negatively affect usability and cause cognitive overload.

How to stop cognitive overload from killing your UX?

People always wanted to be able to communicate with technology naturally and easier. Understanding of cyberpsychology as well as using of emotionally intelligent UX design can help you reduce cognitive load for your product users. Here are 5 ways that will make your UX work smoothly.

#1 Help a user decide

“Learning to choose is difficult. Learning to choose well is more difficult. And learning to choose well in a world of unlimited possibilities is more difficult still, perhaps too difficult,” — Bary Schwartz, The Paradox of choice.

The majority think that an opportunity to choose is the most precious thing we have. However, too many options not only liberate us but make us overloaded too.

Let’s put ourselves in the product user’s shoes. You interact with a super-innovative product with plenty of features. In the beginning, you’re doing a long way of interactions, sign-ups and other unnecessary steps that force you to make plenty of decisions. Your users don’t need a world of options to choose from, they just wanna take the easiest way to understand your product. Give people just a few relevant options satisfying their needs for information. For example, use pull-out menus that hide extra options until they are needed.

#2 Follow time-proof conventions

People already have mental models about how websites or mobile apps work, based on their past experiences visiting other sites. The interface should behave the way users expect it to behave. The situation when it doesn’t do is called cognitive friction that uses our memory for processing information and dealing with what is appearing on the screen.

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Users don’t wanna take another driving lesson.

Follow standards that are popular in your industry. Let a ‘Home’ button look like a tiny house, a ‘Back’ button — like a backward pointing arrow. Use self-explanatory text instead of creative but unfamiliar symbols. Make things simple.

#3 Avoid the unnecessary steps

Minimalism means we have only the things that are the most necessary at the moment. Try to make your UX as minimal as possible too. Strive to minimize the number of tasks a user should perform. When it comes to cognitive overload, every step makes a difference. Use smart defaults wherever possible and try to automate actions. Eliminate all redundancies that could be cluttering up working memory. Let users do the shortest route to their destination.

#4 Balance text and imagery information

Don’t display to a user more than you have to. Use only relevant graphics and a balanced mix of imagery and text. That will help you make a user understand your product better by tapping into the visual and verbal processing centers of the brain.

#5 Structurize your content

Display information in small, easily digestible chunks of information. Try to summarise content at various stages of the user journey and provide short, mental breaks such as “well done” messages. It’ll help to minimize cognitive overload and create a feeling of the user’s progress.


It’s time to say hello to a lightweight and consistent UX that, probably, will not win innovation awards, but will help you keep users happy and make your app downloads increasing.

We hope, these 5 ways to optimize cognitive overload will help you successfully onboard and retain users, especially when dealing with potentially complicated or difficult to communicate products.