The Importance of Cognitive Science in UX UI Design



The field of UX UI design works on the basis of holding user attention. This can, no doubt, be tricky. However, by implementing basics of cognitive science into the design approach, you can succeed.

A couple of years ago, as I was scrolling through college majors and minors. I came across Cognitive Science, and like many of you, I had no idea what it meant. After a bit of research, I understood that Cognitive Science is an interdisciplinary and scientific study of the mind and its processes.

Cognitive Science takes elements from computer science, psychology, artificial intelligence, linguistics, and philosophy. However, it helps answer several questions about human behaviour such as why we do the things we do and think the way we think, what conscious or unconscious biases we all have, and how we perceive and react to our environment. Among its numerous applications is UX UI Design.

Moreover, Cognitive Science relates to UX UI Design. It makes you think about how users will interact with a product or design. Additionally, it answers other important questions such as what their tendencies are, and how to cater to the needs of your audience. 

Impact of Cognitive Science on UI UX Design

The most interesting class that I took was a psychology class on “Cognition”. I learned a lot about human perception and behaviour in the class. Now, I see the various applications of those concepts in the field of design.

For easier understanding, we can break the influence of cognitive science on design into three broad parts- learning, attention, and perception. 

Learning is the first aspect.

It includes aspects such as schemas and memory limitations. The pre-existing mental models created from individual experiences are known as Schemas. They influence human behaviour greatly. Additionally, these schemas give insight into how a user would react with a design. If a product’s design and features do not match the mental representations, the user could find the product inconvenient to use.

A famous study on memory limitations resulted in Miller’s law. It states that the average person has a working memory of 7± 2 items of information. However, an excess of external stimuli leads to cognitive overload. It results in a user missing information and not fully understanding the purpose of the product. Interestingly enough, reducing cognitive overload allows for more usability and better user experience. 

The next aspect is attention.

It refers to how we actively process specific stimuli. Attention can be different depending on the number of items on focus and individual attention span. We all experience conscious and unconscious shifts of attention. However, as a designer, you want to make the user consciously shift their attention towards the design. To do this, designers can use concepts- such as the left-to-right theory and the Simon effect. 

The last and possibly the most important aspect is perception.

Human perception is what helps us understand how we make sense of what we see, feel, and hear. Techniques such as familiarity, similarity, Hick’s law, and serial position explain how a user perceives information. Often simpler designs are easily understood and appreciated. However, complex designs can also be very effective if you put as little strain on the cognitive load as possible. This can be done by using Schemas, Gestalt Psychology and Laws of UX.

There are rudimentary ways to measure a user’s perception; eye tracking and reaction time are tools that cognitive scientists use to understand simple human behaviours. Eye-tracking reveals what the attractive and striking part of a design is. Additionally, reaction time helps us understand the complexity of the presented stimuli, so in terms of UX UI Design, how easy or difficult it is to understand the design. 

A web usability study by Jacob Nielsen showed that 79% of web users scan rather than read. This shows how important it is to make a design appealing to the user. However, Cognitive Science gives insight into the conscious and subconscious behaviour of users that impacts their experience of a product.

Moreover, Designers, at Divami, are already implementing principles of cognitive science in their UI UX design. The result- a more user-centered approach and design.

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