Supporting Human Cognition

By January 15, 2018UX

Cognition is the process of acquiring knowledge and understanding via our senses to form thoughts or intuition. This includes a fair amount of mental processes. A product team’s awareness to this can help them design more user friendly products.


The cognitive process of selecting sensory information from the environment, while ignoring or filtering out the rest. This is a limited cognitive resource which is often seen while seeing users perform only one task adequately at a time. Processing of information is normally top-down, when prior information and knowledge influences interactions with the environment. Bottom up processing is when interaction is governed by sensory stimulation, like loud sounds, or bright lights.

Using of visual elements in UI can be used effectively to grab attention. Banners and animations are smartly used to push information to users.


The cognitive process involved in storage of information once it has been received by our senses. Short term memory is generally limited and it’s span is only increased with practice or by consuming information in smaller chunks. Continuous rehearsal stores information in the long term, known as long term memory. This may be difficult to access depending on the situation or state of mind.

As builders of products we must not cognitively overload our users with plethora of options on the interfaces we make. There is only so much that a user can consume at a point in time.


Language is the cognitive process of learning, understanding and sharing of meaning. It is essential to use appropriate language in design else users will not understand how, why or what they are interacting with. Language is not only spoken or written, visual language comprises of a range of symbols that mean things to users. Product teams must ensure that a language that is understood by users is used in their products.

Combination of text and icon or written and graphical language are used in interfaces to get meaning across to users.


The cognitive process of enabling evaluation of ideas and accommodation or rejection of new information based on prior knowledge. Reasoning is of two types, deductive when one can reason with certainty on the basis of the premise of an argument. Inductive when reasoning is based on prior experience and cannot be done with certainty.

Problem Solving

The mental process involved in the formation of ideas and behaviour that help us achieve our goals. Problem solving involves primarily having a goal, breaking this goal up into sub-goals and then choosing a plan of action for each. Over a period of time and with enough practice this becomes automatic for users. What matters is to have the tools used to solve the problem visible. The user will normally connect the dots and initiate problem solving.

Decision Making

This involves selection of the best possible idea from a range of ideas generated while problem solving. Normally rational there are also many subjective factors involved while making decisions. Most decision making is directed towards minimising losses. It is thus important to ensure that our products make our users feel comfortable and minimize the cost associated with actions they take. This will ensure they can move around freely.

Each of the above processes carry their own limitation and are unique per user. It is the job of product teams to be cognisant of these and relieve the users of tasks that might overburden them.