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What Step Comes Next? Cognitive Considerations In Web Design


Cognitive load is the mental effort that is required to complete a task involving information processing. Managing cognitive load is a balancing act for many user experience design scenarios: each additional visual element, word, or piece of information could contribute undue strain on a person’s working memory, ultimately increasing the chance of errors or adding barriers to learning.

Cognitive load

In the context of web design, maximizing task success helps ensure that users are successful in finding your product value as quickly as possible. Here are three things to keep in mind to reduce cognitive overload for a better user experience.

1. Surface Options Upfront

Surface Options Upfront

By directly surfacing options, you’ll give the user time to compare their alternatives and make an informed choice. This is particularly the case where comparison across a dimension (such as reviews, ratings, prices, etc.) is important.

2. Utilize Progressive Disclosure

Utilize Progressive Disclosure

Use a logical sequence of steps, such as by providing feedback that the next step has been reached (through a label or change in UI) in context. Breaking down a task in to smaller steps usually make sense for checkout flows or a progressive interaction form. Practicing this reminds us to hide unnecessary fields until they become relevant.

3. Eliminate Redundancy and Make the Next Action Clear

Eliminate Redundancy and Make the Next Action Clear

Rather than plaster your entire site with calls to action, prioritize what’s most important and make it stand out by reducing other competing visual elements. If needed, the call to action can be sticky to the page (so it’s always visible).


The best experiences in design are often described as being “seamless”, but the reality is that there can be many obstacles (including limitations of the human brain’s working memory) which can make task completion difficult. Use these three pointers to craft designs that simplify your website design. Prevent your users from having to assume things or slow down to process what step needs to come next, which can give the perception of complexity.

Learn More

Wireframe Resources

Use wireframes to design your user experience from the ground up. These tutorials and wireframe kits will get you started!

Wireon Web Wireframe Kit
Wireon Web Wireframe Kit
Web Library Wireframe
Web Library Wireframe
Collector Wireframe Web Kit
Collector Wireframe Web Kit

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