The mind and website usability

22 Apr
Taking into account how the human mind functions is important to all businesses. Knowledge about the human mind allows businesses to make predictions about client preferences and behavior and tailor their products and services accordingly. This sort of knowledge that can inform usability is especially important in the competitive world of websites.   
If a website is difficult to use people leave. If users cannot easily navigate on your site, if they can’t find answers to their question, if the content is badly structured, if the text is not easy to read or if the users are frustrated in any way, they will leave, because there is an endless number of websites available out there.
It is not surprising that research in cognitive psychology guides designers and developers in building websites offering a competitive edge.

Let us briefly look at some cognitive psychology principles and how these can be relevant to web usability:
Human brainpower is limited. Short-term memory only holds about 7 chunks of information (Miller, 1956), for a maximum of 20 seconds. This means that our brains are not designed for abstract thinking and cannot handle a great amount of information.

Unless highly motivated to solve a particular problem users are not willing to invest all of this mental effort capacity in visiting a website. So, when a website offers too much information, or information that is unclear the user takes longer to understand information and might even get frustrated and leave.

This has the following implications:

Websites need to reduce the cognitive load of the user. The cognitive load required by a user interface refers to the mental resources necessary to operate the system. The less resources needed, the greater the user satisfaction.  

The user should not have to remember information but use the website to recognize information. This is why it is suggested to repeat useful information to act as a memory trigger.     

Overuse of visual elements can lead to visual clutter that can distract the user’s attention. It is important that the text and images support the actions of the user and are not distractors.

Cognitive load is reduced when the actions that people need to perform on a website build on the mental models that users have learned through years of surfing the Internet.

These are just a few general ways in which how we process information can impact the way websites are built.

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