What is ‘information overload’ exactly? How does it affect the usability of a website, application or even marketing campaign?
More importantly, how does a skilled UX designer steer clear of overload - and steer users along a simpler, better user journey? In this article we cover information overload and offer some tips to help you avoid it.
Simple is good
The opposite of overload isn’t underload. It’s simplicity. Avoiding clutter and needless complexity.
Think about Scandinavian architecture: sleek shapes, open spaces, a connection with nature. All wrapped up in an underlying sense of comfort.
Apply the same minimalist ethos to website design and voila… every visit is effective (gets job done) as well as informative (user finds out what they want/need to know). And it’s effortless. Design is like a car’s engine: if it’s working right, you don’t even think about it. It just lets you do what you want.
So: every stage of user journey should be obvious in its meaning and intuitive in its usability. Users should never stop and think “What am I doing here?”
Why worry about overload?
A study by Samson and Kostyszyn (2015) found that people suffering from cognitive overload are less likely to trust. If your visitors are wasting their precious ‘cognitive resources’ just navigating your site, they’re likely to see the whole thing in a negative light.
“Cognitive load is a fancy term for making me think too much.” Robert Hufton - Higher Ground
In practical terms, the less your customers understand what to do, the lower your conversion rates will be.
So discard every element of your interface that doesn’t help them find, do or buy what they came here for.
Learn more Conversion Rate Optimisation tips here.
Overload is just too much information, whether structural, graphical or text.
It’s your job to make it easy to take in what you’re saying. That’s as true for emails, newsletters and blogs as it is for websites… there are around a billion blogs out there, so if yours doesn’t shout “Read me!”, don’t think your readers won’t look elsewhere.
There is a solution. Let’s split it down into four practical tips that help you plan your pages:
1. Dont cram in content.
Websites or application users won’t be able to process what you are asking them if you confront them with too many options, unnecessary actions, or overstimulated colours and typographies.
2. Good balance of content and user flow
Look at the Lush website. A handful of elements in the top menu. A fair few choices under ‘Products’ but all with the same typography, with highlighted best sellers and a card to move to ‘Collection’.
Showing just the most relevant actions and not overwhelming the user, this site provides the right amount of information.
In short, it’s a busy page, but the limited design elements make it easy to use.
3. Keep it brief
Not quite the same as ‘Not too much’.
‘Keep it brief’ is about brevity. Users spend an average or 15 seconds on a website before leaving, so make the information as concise as possible to keep their attention.
Focusing on visual information is a great way to offer enough detail about each section of the website.
4. Keep it relevant
The value of the information they see is a combination of
- How much they see
- How long it takes to process it
So get rid of all the irrelevant information and keep the fundamental content. The stuff that they’re expecting to see - and that you want them to see.
They won’t have to waste their cognitive resources figuring out what’s relevant and what’s just stuffing.
Challenge your interface
If you think every element on your page is vital, think again. Take every element in your interface and:
- Perform some user testing to check if it's useful or even noticeable
- Install some behaviour analytics software (Hotjar.com)
If anything can’t justify its prominence, shrink it.
If it just can’t justify its existence, eliminate it.
Remember: use plain English
When you’re writing, do you indulge in oratorical overstatement? Breathtaking hyperbolic imagery? A surfeit of over-indulgent metaphorical whimsy? If your readers are here for poetic beauty, then great. Otherwise, you might want to tone it down.
Write for the Homer Simpsons of this world and the Stephen Hawkings will still know what you’re getting at. Write for the Hawkings and you’ve lost a lot of your potential audience before you even get started.
And if there’s something complicated you need to explain, take the time to do so. In simple language.
The eyes follow the F
Readers don’t always read line 1, then line 2, then 3, then 4… In fact, eye-tracking experiments have consistently shown that many readers scan pages in an F pattern:
Naturally, we look at the top. Then we scan across a bit. Then our eyes drift down the left-hand side of the page, looking for clues that show us we’ve found something worth reading.
Smart UX designers consider this when they’re placing the key elements on the page: from navigation and filters to information they really want their readers to take in.
Of course, not everyone will scan the same way. And we can use headings, subheadings, bulleted lists and bold/large fonts to drag their eyeballs to the bits we need them to see.
If you are in doubt about objects on your website. It might be worth performing some simple user testing.
Here’s a pretty good example of the predictability of scanning behaviour:
And finally, remember to start well
It’s a cliché, but first impressions count. Your landing page is each visitor’s first taste of what you’re offering. If the first thing you do is plague them with ‘Sign up here’ or ‘Fill in your contact details’, you might lose them for good.
So show them what makes you special, and offer an intriguing call to action that suggests how clicking it will benefit them.
This article is designed to give a brief overview of how UX design can be used to create a user journey. If you need to find out more - contact our UX agency team at Higher Ground today.