Cognitive Psychology in UX : Scarcity Of Getting Attention

Nov 24, 2017 · 5 min read

We live in noisy world. There are too many things that are competing to get our attention but we only have is limited time and energy. Huge number of websites, apps, articles, and advertisements are trying to get our attention are increasing. Which means that whether we’re launching a new product, growing business, or trying to spread a message on the web, it’s harder than ever to get noticed.

So, its responsibility of us UX designers to gain focus/attention, keeping in mind about the factors such as usability, readability, accessibility, ease of navigation etc. Cognitive psychology and understanding of cognitive barriers and loads enable designers to create user experience that maximise conversion and user loyalty.

What is Cognition?

Cognition is “the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses”. Wikipedia

Its psychological processes involved in acquisition and understanding of knowledge, formation of beliefs and attitudes, and decision making and problem solving.

Cognitive Psychology:

The terms are coined by psychologists to refer to the mental effort required by a user to analyse process and understand information and any barriers or obstacles they encounter while doing so. It studies psychology of persons attention span, memory, and reasoning, along with other actions of the brain that are considered a complex mental process.

When we are in digital space we focus on one thing, we ignore other things around us. Its because we’re very task-focused.

Let’s take a good example from user testing blog ;

I asked you to go to this site and find apartments in Texas. What would you do?

You’d probably go right here and search, right?

Did you notice or pay attention to the advertisements over here? If you’re like most people, the answer is no.

This is known as banner blindness. Based on our past experience, we’ve learned that the right side of web pages typically include ads, and so we ignore them. Moreover, we read from left and move towards right.

Cognitive Load:

The pressure that users feel during navigation and usage of a site to complete a task is the cognitive load.

The processing power of human brain reduces as the information is overloaded. User may feel confused, or overwhelmed which leads to negative user experience. In order to ease user experience, we must work towards reducing the cognitive load by following certain principles of cognitive psychology.

How to Reduce Cognitive Load?

  • Make instructions and steps simple: conveying our message straight forward with simple short information helps.
  • Providing just what they need/Reduce amount of information: we need to eliminate distractions and unnecessary information to process.
  • De-clutter our design: Adding too many colours, animation, visual weight, interactions will make them confused. So its good to maintain all of these with balance.
  • Consistent and Familiar design: All primary button in the design are same, all <h1> heading text are the same, navigation are same in all pages. These adds to the experience of using the product. If the users are familiar with forget password in the right bottom of password field we need to keep it there in all design screens shifting it to new location will make them stranded.
  • Easy to scan: According to Steve Krung in his well-received first book, Don’t Make Me Think, one of the most important fact about web users is that they don’t read, they scan. So we need to make our design easy to get scanned.
  • Know how users read online: According to famous eye-tracking research by Norman Nielsen Group, this rule does not apply to online reading. As pictured below, the way users eyes move while reading online creates a F-pattern: horizontal moves on the top headlines and fast vertical scanning of the body text and sub headlines.
  • Reduce amount of information users has to bear in mind: Reduce cognitive load in design and we need to try not to consume their working memory and focus on just one purpose/goal to accomplish.

Human mind is a complex mechanism and it is not possible to achieve the desired user action-by following a set of steps. Moreover, people don’t have enough time in the day (or cognitive bandwidth) to pay attention to everything vying for their attention.

As a result, we filter out almost everything so we can focus on what we want to accomplish. And when we’re focused on that one thing, we ignore other things around us — even things that are right in front of our eyes.

So, when it comes to designing our product, we need to make it as easy as possible for your users to achieve their desired outcome/goals. Rather than trying to fight the in attentional blindness that comes with our users attention, we need to help and guide it to destination where it wants to go.

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