• What Every Designer Should Know About Cognition

What Every Designer Should Know About Cognition, Part 1

“Good design is driven by a deep understanding of the product’s users”. Most UX designers would agree with this and would, wholeheartedly, add that to design great experiences you need to have a deep understanding of how humans think.

I also bet that the literal application of this is different for every designer.

This is because there are lots of tools in UX and everyone picks their favourite. Some like to interview users, some love to prototype and others like to ship and test in the wild.

Me, I’m always surprised by how few technical UX designers know current theories on cognition.

They know to test their designs with users, to observe users and that users will make unexpected blunders but they don’t know a lot about the research that tries to explain why these blunders occur

Design Is a Sum of Its Parts

Take a skill like drawing, for example, with an intuitive understanding of the craft you can still produce great work. But when you know about the technical elements, you will be able to create art that will have a predictable impact.

Design is much the same while observing users helps us see in real-time what they are struggling with, knowing cognitive psychology will help you figure out the mental processes that might be contributing to it.

Cognitive Psychology and Design, Why You Should Care

The aim of cognitive psychology is to investigate the mental processes that happen between a person’s observation and behaviour. It focuses on things such as attention, language, problem solving, memory, perception, creativity and thinking.

As designers we want to design objects or software that are functional and intuitive. The challenge of creating intuitive designs can be solved by understanding what our brains do well and what they don’t.

Cognitive psychology helps us as designers build cognitive models to generalise observations we make about users. Most noteworthy when we have a generalised understanding of human cognition we are able to check assumptions about what we are observing.

Knowing a bit of cognitive psychology will help in every part of the UX process, from leveraging design patterns to explaining A/B test results.

Putting It Into Practice

Over the next few weeks, I’ll touch on three areas; reading, categorisation and construction of reality. I think every UX designer should know some of the cognitive theories behind these.

Check back for part 2 where I discuss reading and why it’s fraught with challenges. I discuss these and their implications for writing and laying out content. See you then!

Tam McKenzie

UX Designer

Tam is part of the Design and Marketing team. She is a UX and Digital Designer and graduated from Murdoch University with a degree in Multimedia. Tam is passionate about UX, design and software.

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