Ways To Avoid Overwhelming Users: Lessons Learned From My High-School Teachers

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High school. I won’t lie: I did not have the highest grades in my graduating class. Some classes and lessons were so poorly designed and delivered that I would frequently become frustrated and fatigued and would ultimately shut down. The contents of the lessons would just wash over me. The experience wasn’t pleasant, and the results were obvious from my transcripts.

But I did well in a few classes. The major difference was the teaching style. Currently, I am a user experience (UX) and user interface (UI) designer of mobile and web applications. In a way, like a teacher, I need to present information in an easily understandable way to new visitors. I need to consider how my students (end users) consume the information that I provide. So, reflection on my high-school experience serves a purpose (aside from painful fashion memories).

A Trip Down Memory Lane

My environmental science and algebra classes stand out as good sources of answers as to what does and doesn’t work when learning new lessons. I remember the former class as being a very positive experience. I would want to use an application or website the same way I learned from my environmental science teacher: simply and intuitively.

On the other hand, my algebra teacher taught the class like an application or website that I would have great difficulty using, the kind that I would spend half of my mental energy trying to learn how to use, rather than learning about what I came for. Let’s compare my two experiences:

  • Algebra
    It start off well. The chalkboard was clean and organized as the teacher wrote a problem and worked out a solution. “OK, I’m getting this.” Then slowly the chalkboard became cluttered as he added another problem somewhere else on the board. Then another. Then another, never erasing old problems to clear up space. The board became cluttered and busy. His pace sped up. I was still hung up on a problem from 10 minutes ago and I was losing my grasp. I looked up from my notebook at a chalkboard that now looked like a lesson in quantum mechanics, rather than simple algebra equations. I felt frustrated, defeated. I retained almost nothing. I gave up and checked out.

    001-opt1
  • Environmental science
    Again, it started off well. My teacher helped this process continue by putting a lot of effort into organizing her materials and lesson plans. She used the overhead projector often. This forced her to display one visual at a time, which I definitely preferred. She passed out print-outs of the visuals towards the end of class, so that we did not get distracted by what was on our desk, but rather focused on and absorbed the lesson. My teacher had a unique way of tying together real-world examples that supported what she was teaching. The subject matter didn’t feel as abstract to me this way. I was able to retain almost all of the information. This way of giving real-world examples and sharing stories that the audience can directly relate to can be useful in creating a great experience.

My experience in algebra class is what educational psychologists2 would call a heavy “cognitive load3.” This is the stress, anxiety and affected learning that happens to a student when content is presented in an overwhelming and excessive way. The student is weighed down and most likely turned off by whatever they were originally interested to discover, learn or find.

It’s obvious that my science class, like a well-planned and well-executed website or app, was by far a more educational and enjoyable experience. The teacher designed her lessons in a way that helped the students avoid cognitive overload and maintain the focus needed to learn.

So, now that I’ve learned something about myself, how can I apply these findings to UX design?

Understand And Know Your Audience

Teachers and UX Designers Are Alike

Teachers are not very different from UX designers. A teacher’s responsibility, like a UX designer’s, is to present content in a format known as instructional design4. In other words, teachers and UX designers must both perform an audience analysis to be aware of their population as a whole. Teachers must understand the students’ curriculum level, goals, skills, learning styles, skill gaps and attention spans to make lesson plans work in everyone’s favor and close any skill gaps that may exist. They need to understand how much information their students can handle and when to deliver that information.

Audience analysis brings to light important insights, such as the students’ goals, frustrations, likes and dislikes. Teachers, like UX designers, decide which content is relevant and how to visually present it. Then, they design a lesson plan that meets their students’ needs without overwhelming their current abilities. The same goes for UX designers as they begin a prototype or wireframe.

Students and End Users Are Also Alike

What happened to me in high-school algebra happens to users on websites, web apps and mobile apps every day. A user will visit a website or try out an application that is designed in such a way that they at once become overwhelmed with content and features that are too quickly displayed. Very often the user will not be able to retain the information and will simply get frustrated and leave the site or app. That’s the worst case for a business that wants to retain and convert users.

For the purpose of this article, I’ll loosely compare students with end users. Unlike users of applications, students do not have the option to try out a teacher or class and decide to move on to another if the first doesn’t meet their needs; however, students and end users do both need to absorb new information from an outside source, process it and ultimately retain it.

Understand Your Subject And Content Types To Minimize Cognitive Overload

Intrinsic Cognitive Load

“Intrinsic” here refers to the complexity that is inherent in certain tasks or materials. In plain terms, some lessons and content are harder to consume than others, and the more complex the content, the more likelihood of cognitive overload.

My algebra class would have been better had the teacher presented one problem at a time, explained the solution at an even pace, cleared the board and then presented the next problem. Print-outs of what was on the board could have been handed out, helping to eliminate the distraction of trying to recreate those problems and solutions in a notebook.

Extraneous Cognitive Load

This form of content consists of superfluous elements, such as an infographic that isn’t necessary for the text it accompanies and that requires the user to do extra mental processing, which can lead to cognitive overload. Or perhaps text is being used when an infographic is called for instead; for example, by explaining in words what a square is when a drawing would get the point across more quickly.

My environmental science class avoided this because the teacher omitted the unnecessary or cumbersome content in our textbooks and provided simple examples and explanations of complex ideas.

How To Avoid Cognitive Overload

Let’s put this into practice and review some ways of avoiding overwhelming your users when they visit your website or app. Below are some tips and examples on how to avoid cognitive overload when designing.

1. Simplify

Audit all of your content and remove anything that isn’t absolutely required for your user to realize their goal. This means auditing the content itself, the amount of content (see point 2 below), as well as the layout, design, graphics and typography (see point 6). Distractors5 and extraneous elements will most likely lead not to increased stimulation, but to cognitive overload.

Decorative graphics might seem to make content more interesting, but they require extra mental processing and will increase the cognitive load. If the content doesn’t support the instructional goal, then remove it. Use your judgment, and be mindful of branding and design aesthetics that the targeted audience would expect.

Good example: A great example is TED106’s redesign. Using the Wayback Machine7 I accessed the 2013 version8 of TED, and the simplification is easy to see.

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A good example of simplification can be seen in this year’s redesign (right) of TED106’s website. (View large version11)

Working with the design firm Huge12, TED audited its website’s content, listened to its users and developed an experience that feels much more personalized and exploratory. TED got away from bombarding the user with many types of navigation and filters. It picked only those that are necessary, giving the interface more breathing room and allowing for larger and cleaner typography, as well as larger and more vibrant images from its talks.

The redesign has been a great success, with more visits, more awards and more participation. It’s a perfect example of how simplicity can draw in the user and help them orient themselves and not be frightened by the density of content.

2. Bite-Sized Information

If the content is too complex and the layout too dense and clustered, then the user might not be able to, or even want to, process the information effectively. Breaking complex content into smaller chunks13 and enabling the user to control their consumption of this content will help them process the information more effectively.

Good example: The designers at Teehan + Lax14 do an outstanding job of chunking information. They set a high standard for how to lay out a lot of content, while keeping a nice rhythm, intuitive content breakers (including visuals and block quotes) and great design elements (such as typography and color).

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(View large version16)

Teehan + Lax does this particularly well with its case studies. Intrinsically complex, the case studies are easy and enjoyable to
read because the designers have chunked the well-written content with large typography, interesting parallax scrolling effects and animations, and stunning graphics and colors. The case study of Prismatic17 illustrates just this.

Bad example: Y&R’s “About Us18” page is an example of intrinsically dense content that’s made even more difficult to consume.

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(View large version20)

The page is much too dense with content and cluttered with distractors. Comparing it to Teehan + Lax, you should be able to see the difference that well-implemented chunking makes.

Using a grid for a copy-heavy subject was a risky decision that makes this page appear cluttered. The actual “About Us” content is buried beneath large boxes of related articles and quick links to sections below. The type is too small and its alignment and width change three times on the page. Too many seemingly random and busy images appear that don’t support the text. And the “Related Content” links, much like the images, are too many in quantity and seem randomly placed. All of these distractors force the user to orient themselves and understand the page’s layout before actually learning about Y&R and its culture.

3. Be Creative

Present information in different ways. Because the web is visual, try to present content graphically, through images or graphs. This is a great way to exploit the user’s different processing methods, freeing up their mind as they consume content, which in turn reduces their cognitive load. Most importantly, design the visuals in a meaningful way and not with such unorthodoxy that they become frustrating to use.

Good example: Well-produced annual reports creatively merge gorgeous infographics, photographs and illustrations to capture and hold the reader’s attention. Even though they’re digital now, they uphold the principles forged by their printed forefathers. Philips’ annual report for 201321 is a fine example of bite-sized headlines and facts, undistracting photographs, simple infographics and well-paced layouts, helping the user absorb information without being turned off.

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(View large version23)

Philips’ designers and writers introduce great creative elements along with standard tactics (including chunking). The information architecture is set up so that users can find new articles through “Read More” links, rather than everything being squeezed into one space.

Bad example: GE’s annual report for 201224 is similar to Phillip’s in that the website is a vertical-scrolling storyboard with parallax effects. Unfortunately, it is not as effective in preventing cognitive overload. It starts off well, but as soon as the user arrives at the “Letter to Shareowners,” the volume of text clearly becomes overwhelming. Even with the infographics and pictures, the small text demands that shareowners absorb a lot. If the content could not have been made less complex, then perhaps more editing, auxiliary navigation, clear headings and section dividers would have made it easier to digest.

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GE has award-winning designs, and its annual report26 starts off great but gets very dense with the “Letter to the Shareowners,” giving the reader way too much to absorb. (View large version27)

4. Keep the Story Interesting and Free of Redundancy

It’s easy for designers and content strategists to get boxed into templates. Templates are great for many reasons. They make writing, designing and development easier, especially when you’re dealing with multiple content types (such as products and company departments). They also indicate to the user what to expect from page to page.

On the other hand, they can become repetitive. When every page is based on the same template, unique storylines are lost because everything becomes homogenous. This can create apathy in the user for the brand. To counter this, make high-level pages visually unique, and tell a story from the top of the page to the bottom to capture and hold interest.

Good example: Apple shows how product pages can adhere to an overall template and design style yet not come across as repetitive or uninspired. The pages for MacBook Air28, MacBook Pro29 and iMac30 all have the same secondary navigation, photography and typographic style, but within each product area lies a distinct and fresh layout. This engages the user and prevents cognitive overload.

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Each product in Apple’s32 Mac line has its own layout, while still adhering to an overall design style and template. (View large version33)

Bad example: Granted, Sony has a much larger catalog of products than Apple, and the case for adhering more closely to a template for its product pages is much greater. With Sony’s product page template34, pages become easy to produce, write, develop and update in bulk. Nevertheless, the story gets lost, and the products are homogenized. The user can easily read and understand the content, but the excitement is lost. That excitement and energy, exemplified by Apple, captures the user’s attention and focus (two of the main ingredients in the process of learning).

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Sony’s36 product pages all adhere to the same template and layout, making it easy for users to read and understand the content but losing the excitement and the story. (View large version37)

5. Make It Multimedia

People learn better when words and graphics are combined — that is, when graphics on their own would not be self-explanatory. Just be sure to make the relationship between the two very clear, whether by embedding the text in the graphic or by showing the elements in close proximity.

Good example: Airbnb4038 is a great example of multimedia done right. Videos of lifestyle vignettes rotate on its home page, under the powerful headline “Welcome Home.” People tend to be drawn in by video, so this approach (which includes persisting the headline) works well as a branding vehicle.

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Airbnb4038’s video vignettes under the powerful headline “Welcome Home” draw in the user. (View large version41)

Bad example: Another apartment-sharing company, HomeAway4442, does not engage its users as well as Airbnb. HomeAway has a single static image and headline — no movement, no energy to the content, which forces the user to expend extra energy to orient themselves and figure out what’s marketing and what’s relevant. While the layouts of both websites are similar and well designed, any extra energy the user has to exert is a negative.

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HomeAway4442’s home page has a single static image and headline, lacking any movement or energy and not engaging the user to the fullest. (View large version45)

6. Follow Basic Design Principles

Any good designer instinctively understands the following principles, but we’ll mention them anyway because they are extremely relevant to the presentation of content and the user’s experience:

  • Make the typography big.
  • Choose readable font faces.
  • Employ summaries and headings.
  • Make the layout clear.
  • Use generous white space.
  • Clarify with examples.

Good example: Big Human46’s redesign of Time5047’s completely adaptive website is a perfect example of superb design considerations. Like the other good examples above, Time’s redesign is a lesson in the principles listed above. The website is easy to read, in large part due to the white space, the well-sized typefaces (Franklin Gothic and Georgia) and adherence to a vertical as well as a baseline grid. As a result, the intrinsic complexity of the content does not feel overwhelming. The user can easily parse the headlines, blurbs and sections. Quite a few options are presented to the user, but done in a way that minimizes cognitive overload.

Bad example: The New York Post5148 struggles with what Time does so well. The layout is a grid of uninspiring images that are hard to view because they are overlaid with a condensed typeface that is hard to read (Founders Grotesk). The lack of white space makes the content difficult to navigate and read. The layout in general is conducive to cognitive overload. With the abundance of photos, repetitive typeface styles and minimal white space, the user will most likely not respond well to the presentation and shut down.

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Time5047’ website is clear, with readable typefaces and plenty of white space. The New York Post5148 lacks clarity with its condensed typeface and meager white space. (View large version52)

Prevent Cognitive Overload To Be A Successful UX Designer And Teacher

My old science teacher could have probably become a solid UX designer. She knew her target audience, and she knew how to connect with them. Her lesson plans were clean and thoughtful, designed around intrinsically complex material. She provided helpful visuals and supporting documentation to help her students retain the material.

Following these six rules when designing a website or lesson plan will minimize cognitive overload and keep your users (or students) easily informed and happy. Simplify and chunk complex information, eliminate extraneous content to reduce repetitiveness, and follow the basic design principles above.

If I could, I would invite you to contact my science teacher with any design questions or comments you may have. Unfortunately, we are no longer in contact, so you are stuck with me. Please post any questions or comments you have below.

(cc, il, al)

Footnotes

  1. 1 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/001-large-opt.jpg
  2. 2 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Educational_psychology
  3. 3 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_load
  4. 4 http://theelearningcoach.com/resources/online-learning-glossary-of-terms
  5. 5 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_facilitation#Attention_theories
  6. 6 http://www.ted.com/
  7. 7 https://archive.org/web/
  8. 8 http://web.archive.org/web/20130516065409/http:/www.ted.com/
  9. 9 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/002-large-opt.jpg
  10. 10 http://www.ted.com/
  11. 11 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/002-large-opt.jpg
  12. 12 http://www.hugeinc.com/
  13. 13 http://theelearningcoach.com/elearning_design/chunking-information/
  14. 14 http://www.teehanlax.com
  15. 15 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/003-large-opt.png
  16. 16 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/003-large-opt.png
  17. 17 http://www.teehanlax.com/story/prismatic/
  18. 18 http://www.yr.com/about
  19. 19 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/004-large-opt-500x338.png
  20. 20 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/004-large-opt-500x338.png
  21. 21 http://www.annualreport2013.philips.com/
  22. 22 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/005-large-opt.jpg
  23. 23 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/005-large-opt.jpg
  24. 24 http://www.ge.com/ar2012/
  25. 25 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/006-large-opt.jpg
  26. 26 http://www.ge.com/ar2012/
  27. 27 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/006-large-opt.jpg
  28. 28 http://www.apple.com/macbook-air/
  29. 29 http://www.apple.com/macbook-pro/
  30. 30 http://www.apple.com/imac/
  31. 31 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/007-large-opt.jpg
  32. 32 http://www.apple.com/
  33. 33 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/007-large-opt.jpg
  34. 34 http://store.sony.com/televisions/cat-27-catid-Televisions?SR=nav:electronics:televisions:ss
  35. 35 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/008-large-opt.jpg
  36. 36 http://www.sony.com/
  37. 37 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/008-large-opt.jpg
  38. 38 https://www.airbnb.com/
  39. 39 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/009-large-opt.jpg
  40. 40 https://www.airbnb.com/
  41. 41 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/009-large-opt.jpg
  42. 42 http://www.homeaway.com/
  43. 43 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/010-large-opt.jpg
  44. 44 http://www.homeaway.com/
  45. 45 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/010-large-opt.jpg
  46. 46 #/work/
  47. 47 http://time.com/
  48. 48 http://nypost.com/
  49. 49 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/011-large-opt.jpg
  50. 50 http://time.com/
  51. 51 http://nypost.com/
  52. 52 http://www.smashingmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/011-large-opt.jpg

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Jon Bernbach is a Senior User Experience Designer at DOOR3. He is an accomplished designer with over 10 years of experience creating compelling designs within prints and web mediums. After a stint in public relations, Jon has spent most of his career in medical publishing and freelancing for companies in a wide variety of industries. Jon graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts with a concentration in photography. Currently, he enjoys making mixed media artwork and plans on one day showing his work in public...one day.

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  1. 1

    Great stuff here! I love the school comparison and you have some solid examples that really drive your points home. Thanks for the article!

    12
    • 2

      Thanks for the comment, Jeff. It was interesting to learn and write about the similarities of best teaching practices and UX.

      8
  2. 3

    Jon, it is really great to see an article comparing teaching and UX. As a former teacher turned UX designer, I really saw a lot of parallels during my transition and continue to reference them on the job! These examples do a great job giving a snapshot of some of the commonalities and a great primer on cognitive load.

    I can tell you quality lesson and unit planning, behavior management, and classroom procedure planning also looks a lot like UX when done right. Thanks for the read!

    3
    • 4

      Thanks Kristy (especially coming from a former teacher)… you should totally write a cool anecdote on the thread. I’m curious if you have any experience in e- education. I’m sure you’d be a great asset to that field.

      6
  3. 5

    Jon,

    Thanks for the fantastic article! I love the teacher/designer comparison and found myself nodding in agreement as I read.

    I find confused users due to bad design are unfairly blamed for their woes the same way confused students due to poor teaching methods are. Just as a good teacher can make the ‘poor student’ shine, good UX can make someone who is ‘bad with technology’ feel as intelligent as they really are.

    Your examples focused on public-facing websites, but I find the same concept of minimizing cognitive load has powerful results in business software. I like to call software that is good at this “guessable”. I wrote about it here: https://medium.com/guessable-design/dotw-do-one-thing-well-97c15f990dfe.

    Thanks again!

    5
  4. 6

    Fantastic article!
    Really appreciated the good and bad examples of UX web design. Really drove the point home.

    Cheers!

    4
    • 7

      Hey Andrew… thanks for the comment. I wasn’t a fan of using the word “bad” (seems so negative and on the attack) but it felt like it got the point across best. Have an awesome Sunday.

      4
  5. 8

    Most of your points are just repeating the current minimalist orthodoxy. Most of your favorite websites look like sales brochure covers for people who don’t like to read. In a couple of years designers will have moved on to some new fad, and you’ll be pushing that with a new set of “logic.”

    -7
    • 9

      Hi Bill,

      Maybe you’re right about fads and minimalism (I certainly do like my white space) … but in the above examples all the sites are designed to and cater to end-users who don’t want to (or can’t afford to) invest a lot of time and energy into filtering through volumes of information. The above sites are either marketing or light editorial and all on a high level. None of these exemplified sites are nor should be intensive efforts for an end-user.

      My intention was to clearly break down specific examples and explain best practices to help designers and content writers see and understand how certain methods and executions work better than others.

      8
  6. 10

    This is a very good article because it caused me to remember to what worked for me when I was in school. Your examples are totally on the mark.

    As far as the “minimalist orthodoxy”, I do not understand why any person would dispute the value of minimalism.

    Back to your school examples, teachers would break down some lessons into flash cards. Either one picture or one word per card instead of a page full of pictures and words.

    Minimalism has been employed to reduced the cognitive load since before the web. A different word may have been used, but the goal was the same: reduce the clutter of a cluttered situation.

    Take your home, for instance. You start off with an empty set of boxes. You later add furniture and then wall decorations. After some time, your home become so cluttered that cleaning become a very difficult task.

    What happens next is you decide to have a yard or garage sale to get rid of the clutter so to make your life easier. This is minimalism as a dynamic of life.

    The web started off as a blank slate. As new technologies were created, sites became cluttered with “tech effects to impress”. Now, we are scanning pages and are no longer impressed by all the bells and whistles (Twitter became successful before the addition of all the other stuff to its site).

    Minimalism is not a trend, but housecleaning. After some time, all areas (physical or virtual) will need cleaning so you can clear your mind and see what is truly necessary.

    For me, your article emphasizes the need to focus on the objective: the content that matters to the end user. Of course, this content is dependent on the nature of the site, but, in any case, eliminating extraneous artifacts will provide a clear path to the relevant content.

    Again, this is a very informative article that I had to read twice and bookmark. Much appreciation for sharing your knowledge and experience to those, like me, in search for inspiration and enlightenment.

    5
    • 11

      H.E.A.T. — thanks so much for your comment. You almost wrote an entire article in your comment! heh

      I’m definitely going to start referencing the flash cards and the “reduce the clutter of a cluttered situation” statement.

      You are so correct about “Minimalism has been employed to reduced the cognitive load since before the web”. I need to study up on classic techniques from renowned artists, architect…etc. It’s great fuel for our craft and if you can regurgitate; great artillery at dicey client meetings.

      4
      • 12

        Thanks for sharing the insights and the article Jon, much appreciated – it’s great to hear someone talking sense!

        2
        • 13

          Hi Mark,

          Can you please follow me around the office and just say what you wrote? : )

          If you’re referring to a client requesting a new feature on their app or site it’s definitely a challenge to try to explain to them that less is more, that what they are asking is more likely to turn a user off than capture their interest.

          Something we try to do is a hybrid agile approach. Get the MVP out the door and prioritize “nice to haves” in sprints. This helps (forces), inherently, the client to truly stop and think about what’s needed at what time and actually see how it performs.

          It’s all a great big challenge. No doubt.

          3
          • 14

            Sure ;)

            That’s exactly the way I work too, of course it’s a challenge to explain to anyone that less is more, less is better.

            Doing one thing at a time, doing it better. Then move on. It’s the constant idea of MVP and iterating/improving on that.

            2
    • 15

      Couldn’t agree more – it’s all about focus and breaking things down into logical steps so that the cognitive load isn’t growing.

      Time after time it’s a request for a ‘feature’ that may ruin this and increase the cognitive load as the user has to think.

      Less, but better.

      2
  7. 16

    Thanks Jon, some great tips in there with some really good working examples. Unfortunately, the site I manage is a large corporate site and our publishing software restricts us on how we can present content, but there’s still plenty of food for thought in your article.

    2
    • 17

      Hi Andy,

      There are about 11,000 CMS out there. Maybe more. So I don’t doubt the frustrations you probably encounter. Our own developers sometimes, for contract purposes, have to learn new CMSs or frameworks that clients use and I hear, see and sometimes smell the aggravation they release into the air. ha ha…. First world problems, eh?

      Thanks again!

      1
  8. 18

    Jon,

    Really nice “recipe” for a good UX. And I really appreciated your discussion of high school classes in algebra; since then I’ve thought that the math could have been taught much better. I’ve taken some classes a few years ago and really enjoyed them — and was quite successful. (There’s the unstated but very real cost here; bad UX can leave people behind as well as just losing customers.)

    I’m interested in this from the perspective of the “Internet of Things”. Because of machines are to help us, we will need good UX interfaces to control the machines. Or else, why bother? The phrase “labor-saving devices” should have some substantive content.

    But the early signs are troubling. The phenomenon of “alarm fatigue” is well documented in healthcare, oil exploration, airplane cockpits, and is exactly generated by cognitive overload, as you state. The topic I’m especially interested in as the “business analysis” which is required to properly manage huge volumes of connected sensors and machines. And it is this business analysis which is necessary to building a proper UX. And doing business analysis and UX design is both non-trivial and expensive.

    Here is an article I’ve written on the topic. The article looks at alarm fatigue in healthcare, which is well documented, and then applies those lessons to manufacturing, where we are seeing a take-up on Internet of Things opportunities:

    http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20140730013817-1524359-what-manufacturing-iot-project-leaders-can-learn-from-healthcare

    It will be interesting and fruitful to see how business analysis and UX design evolve together; perhaps they are just different aspects of the same work?

    2
    • 19

      “There’s the unstated but very real cost here; bad UX can leave people behind as well as just losing customers.” This is so powerful in terms of our educational system. You’re so right … and in my opinion, teachers have a much tougher task than a designer. To be successful they need to offer several “UXs” to multiple types of students….maybe in the same class. (have I just muddled this thought up?)

      I’m going to check out your article when I get some downtime after work. It sounds interesting.

      Thanks for the comment!

      One last thought: maybe Skynet had horrible UX interfaces. : )

      2
  9. 20

    One thing I’d point out about your lead examples from school is that algebra is inherently abstract, whereas environmental science is something most humans find quite easy to understand since it is underpinned by the physical world we experience everyday from birth. It’s a bit of an apples vs. oranges comparison. I think there is certainly value to your point about one teacher never erasing anything on the chalkboard and the other delivering information in pieces but there is something to be said for the fact that mathematics stresses your ability to comprehend it no matter how you deliver the lesson.

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  10. 21

    My favorite part of your article, Jon, is the overhead issue of eliminating clutter. I often find that clients have pre-determined the vast amount of data they hope to throw at every visitor, and it is up to the designer to introduce the concepts behind UX.

    That’s not always easy, but the results show through higher visitation numbers and on-line conversions. Short and sweet is always the right answer. There has never been a time where that New York Post layout was judged as “most effective” or even “most enticing.” I’m not necessarily saying everything should follow minimalist thinking, but maximizing efficiency is always useful.

    Thank you for sharing your insight, and all of the thorough analysis (complete with real-world examples). That certainly helps drive your points home!

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    Hi Jon,

    Great comparison and examples of good and bad UX! At my work I deal with e-commerce sites a lot and I share your point of view that we should be like teachers and try to explain everything as clear as we can to make the user/student understand the subject. Sometimes it is hard with e-commerce sites with many complex products though. I was wondering have you some projects you could share with e-commerce sites?

    I was analysing the subject myself and got to gather some rules and examples of good and bad product presentation and other worth checking insights, while organizing a user friendly e-commerce website that tou can check out. http://bit.ly/make_the_best_User_Experience

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    Great article, Jon. The teaching analogy is a good one and can be applied to so many areas of how we communicate. Thanks for the tips and great examples (that NY Post website has always given me seizures!). Looking forward to reading more good stuff from you.

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    Nice article; I especially enjoyed the good and bad examples!

    You wrote about adopting the style of a good teacher in your UI/UX work, but what about the other way around?

    I wonder if much of the emerging (and certainly justified!) burden of accommodating different learning styles in schools could be reduced by doing what experience designers have been doing all along–catering to pure human instinct.

    Visual learners need some things; auditory learners need others, but I suppose we’re all the same viscerally. We like bright colors and simplicity. We don’t like chaotic soundscapes. Windows and sunlight are pleasant.

    It’s a shame that schools and workplaces don’t invest in environments that leverage and optimize this!

    —————————————————————————————–

    P.S. – I’m new to the awesomeness that is UI/UX and have started trying to write about it myself. Check out my (hopefully quite usable :-) ) blog here if you like:

    usabilityplease.wordpress.com

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    This is a great article and I like you approach very much.

    Point 4 however (Make it Multi-media) always has challenging trade offs. The majority of the world does not access the internet via devices that are capable of data-rich multi-media content so whilst airbnb’s video launch page is engaging it is a particularly clear example of how not to do it, *because* is uses video.

    Us web designers are always very enamoured with ‘pretty’ but if the majority of your viewership use mobiles then getting your site to work cleanly over a GPSR connection must be considered.

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    Thank you very much for writing this. This article is precisely what I need to share to my client. I was discussing with her on how to go about producing a program booklet. Many times clients tend to give graphic designers too much information to work with. I have to keep reminding them to keep things extremely simple and easy for the end users to absorb the information. Cut out the unimportant things, draw the user in with typography and copywriting, get straight to the point.

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    Parts of this article are very reminiscent of this one I read (and love) from a couple years ago; seems like the basics don’t change much. – http://uxmag.com/articles/cognition-the-intrinsic-user-experience

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