Cognitive Overhead, Or Why Your Product Isn’t As Simple As You Think

The pursuit of easy and simple, even in complex systems, is a never-ending battle. David Lieb discusses this not as a physical thing but as a mental thing, a cognitive overhead that we as software developers need to overcome.

What is cognitive overhead? A Chicago developer named David Demaree called it, “how many logical connections or jumps your brain has to make in order to understand or contextualize the thing you’re looking at.”

As David says:

Minimizing cognitive overhead is imperative when designing for the mass market. Why? Because most people haven’t developed the pattern matching machinery in their brains to quickly convert what they see in your product (app design, messaging, what they heard from friends, etc.) into meaning and purpose. We, the product builders, take our ability to cut through cognitive overhead for granted; our mental circuits for our products’ patterns are well practiced.

But in reality most products are really difficult to use. Sometimes it is necessary. There is a learning curve for certain things. But the more we can eliminate those curves the more attractive our apps. In the article, David offers a number of ways to reduce cognitive overhead, and some examples of apps that both work and don’t work in this world.

2 thoughts on “Cognitive Overhead, Or Why Your Product Isn’t As Simple As You Think

  1. I think for B2B products it’s worth using cognitive task analysis and naturalistic decision making methods to get a deeper understanding of how your prospect looks at the “job to be done.” See some more background. If you are selling to experts is less a matter of making it as simple as possible and more about supporting complex mental models.

    On Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 7:53 AM, Elia Insider

Comments are closed.