UX Basics: Understand (and Reduce) Cognitive Load

UX basics to reduce cognitive load

Cognitive load refers to the mental effort and resources needed to process and understand information. Basically, “How hard do I have to think to accomplish this task?” In the context of User Experience (UX) design, reducing cognitive load is essential so users can easily comprehend and interact with a website or digital product.

Low cognitive load means they’ll be able to do what they need to do quickly and easily. On the other hand, a high cognitive load causes frustration and exhaustion, and the user will likely go elsewhere to complete their task.


10 methods to reduce cognitive load

We recommend the following methods to reduce cognitive load, improve the user experience of your site, and get the conversions you want.


1. Simplify design

Keep the layout clean and uncluttered. Use whitespace, straightforward typography, and visual hierarchy to guide a user’s attention and make it easy to understand content.


2. Streamline navigation

Make navigation menus and links clear, intuitive, and easy to find. Use descriptive labels and logical grouping to help users quickly locate the necessary information without confusion or frustration.


3. Provide clear and concise content

Present information in a concise and easily digestible manner. Keep your copy (website text) short, and use bullet points, headings, and short paragraphs to break up text and make it scannable. Highlight important information or key takeaways to reduce cognitive load.


4. Use progressive disclosure

Progressive disclosure is a strategy to manage large amounts of information and actions across several screens by providing incrementally more details as the user progresses through the content. This works best by providing information or controls at the point the user needs them—and hiding things that are not relevant. Start with the most straightforward, top-level information and move details and advanced information onto secondary pages.


Hand drawn storyboards for digital product with low cognitive load

5. Use visual cues and affordances

Visual affordances make it easier for users to understand how to interact with the website. To reduce cognitive load, incorporate visual cues that provide hints and guidance to users. For example, use icons, buttons, and tooltips to indicate clickable elements or interactive features.


6. Minimize distractions

Remove unnecessary elements or visual clutter that distract users from their primary tasks. Avoid excessive ads, pop-ups, or auto-playing media that can overwhelm users.


7. Optimize loading speed

Slow-loading pages can increase frustration and cognitive load. Optimize images, use caching techniques, and minimize code to improve page loading speed and provide a smoother browsing experience. Bonus: This also helps to boost your SEO score!


8. Use familiar design patterns

Follow established design patterns and conventions that users are familiar with. When users encounter familiar patterns, they can rely on their existing mental models, reducing the cognitive effort required to navigate and understand the website.


9. Provide feedback and guidance

Offer clear feedback when users perform actions such as clicking buttons, submitting forms, or completing tasks. Provide informative error messages that guide users in resolving issues instead of leaving them confused or frustrated.


10. Make informed improvements

Remember to incorporate user testing to identify any areas that may still pose cognitive challenges. After receiving feedback, you can make informed UX design improvements to your website.  



Using these methods will reduce the cognitive load on your website, making it easier for users to navigate, understand information, and accomplish their goals. The result will be a more enjoyable and user-friendly experience for your visitors and more conversions for you!


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Published on Aug 15, 2023