K Design Logo Icon

Avoiding cognitive overload: how to simplify your website for a better user experience

Eligijus K.
October 26, 2023

As we navigate through the vast ocean of information available at our fingertips, it's crucial to recognise the impact of cognitive load on our online experiences. When it comes to websites, presenting information in an easily digestible manner is vital to avoid overwhelming and confusing visitors. Striking the perfect balance between sharing valuable content and minimising cognitive load is no easy feat, but it's essential for crafting a compelling and user-friendly website. In this article, we'll explore the concept of cognitive load, its effect on user experience, and how you, as a web designer or business owner, can take intentional steps to reduce it. By doing so, you'll create an engaging online environment where users feel at ease, leading to increased customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Let's dive in and uncover the secrets to simplifying your website for a better user experience.

What is cognitive load?

Cognitive load pertains to the mental effort required by our brain to process information and make decisions. The greater the cognitive load, the more difficult it becomes for our brain to handle the information, potentially leading to disruptions or reduced efficiency. For instance, consider a website cluttered with numerous buttons, links, advertisements, and images on its homepage. Users may feel overwhelmed and struggle to locate the information they need. Conversely, a website featuring a clean and straightforward layout, well-structured content, and user-friendly navigation can minimise cognitive load, enhancing the overall user experience.

For example, Google Maps adeptly reduces cognitive load by displaying only crucial information and offering clear visual cues to assist users with navigation. By providing directions in a step-by-step fashion and emphasising key landmarks, Google Maps allows users to process information more easily and reach their destination without feeling inundated.

In a similar vein, the Headspace app, dedicated to meditation and mindfulness, alleviates cognitive load by presenting guided meditation sessions through simple, straightforward instructions. By simplifying the meditation process and employing a clean, minimalist interface, Headspace enables users to concentrate on their practice, free from unnecessary distractions.

How does cognitive load affect your website?

Cognitive load plays a significant role in UX design, shaping the ease with which users can navigate and engage with your website. When information overload occurs, users may experience confusion, frustration, and, ultimately, a negative user experience.

As a UX designer, the primary objective is to present information in a simplified manner, enabling users to effortlessly grasp the content. This process entails streamlining content, minimising complexity, and crafting an intuitive user experience.

In the following sections, we'll explore various strategies to alleviate the cognitive load on your website, paving the way for a more enjoyable and seamless user experience:

Consider your user's expectations in design

Embracing traditional design patterns that users are already accustomed to can significantly reduce cognitive load, leading to a smoother and more enjoyable experience.

For instance, Amazon employs a familiar layout with a search bar, navigation menu, and logo at the top, while the footer includes links to various site sections. This intuitive design enables users to navigate the website effortlessly and find what they need promptly.

Another example is Google's homepage, which showcases a clean and straightforward interface with a prominent search bar at the centre of the page. By concentrating on the most vital functionality and adhering to established design patterns, Google has effectively minimised cognitive load for its users.

On the other hand, introducing drastic changes to website design can cause confusion and frustration, as users must adapt to a new way of interacting with the site. When Snapchat overhauled its app in 2018, users encountered a steep learning curve due to the considerable deviation from the previous layout. This resulted in widespread backlash and eventually led to the reversal of some changes, highlighting the importance of following familiar design patterns.

It is essential to take user expectations into account when designing a website or app. By adhering to conventional design patterns and learning from successful examples like Amazon and Google, you can create a more positive user experience and decrease cognitive load for your audience.

Simplify your content for easier understanding

Writing content for the web differs significantly from creating other formal documents. Online content should be clear, concise, and easily comprehensible. It must avoid internal jargon or terms that are only meaningful to those within your organisation.

For example, MailChimp is renowned for its straightforward language and friendly tone in both its website copy and email campaigns. By employing everyday language, they make their platform accessible to users with varying levels of technical expertise. This approachable writing style helps minimise cognitive load and simplifies navigation and understanding of the platform.

Dropbox is another instance of using short sentences, bullet points, and distinct headings on its website to dissect complex subjects like cloud storage and file sharing. By arranging content in this way, they make it more scannable, enabling users to find the information they need quickly without feeling overwhelmed.

Gov.uk, the British government's online portal, also excels at demystifying complex information. Their website presents data in a transparent, succinct manner, transforming bureaucratic language into easily digestible content for a diverse audience. The incorporation of headings, bullet points, and logical structures results in a more user-friendly experience.

Taking inspiration from these examples, prioritise clarity and brevity when writing for the web. Use headings, bullet points, and logical structures to segment content, making it more manageable for users to scan and locate necessary information. In doing so, you can effectively reduce cognitive load and foster a more positive user experience.

Reducing the number of choices

Offering too many choices can result in analysis paralysis, making decision-making difficult for users. The detrimental effects of excessive options arise from the behavioral science concept called Choice Overload.

A prime example of successfully minimising choice overload is Apple's online store. Apple streamlines the purchasing process by limiting product variations and presenting a clear, step-by-step customisation for each device. By concentrating on a smaller range and guiding users through a linear decision-making process, Apple lowers cognitive load and enhances the buying experience.

Netflix is another example, curating content recommendations for users based on their viewing history and preferences. By showcasing a limited selection of personalised content, Netflix prevents users from feeling overwhelmed by an extensive library of titles. This customised approach to content presentation mitigates choice overload and helps users find relevant content faster.

Zappos, an online shoe retailer, also tackles choice overload with its comprehensive filtering system. By enabling users to filter options based on factors like size, colour, price, and brand, Zappos assists customers in focusing on a manageable subset of products, simplifying the decision-making process.

By delivering the right information at the appropriate time, you can directly guide users to their desired outcomes. For intricate tasks, breaking them into smaller, manageable segments, as demonstrated by Apple, Netflix, and Zappos, can alleviate cognitive load and make task completion easier for users.

Minimise visual clutter

Decreasing clutter leads to lower cognitive load. A minimalist design assists users in concentrating on essential aspects, reducing the mental effort required to process information.

Medium, a popular blogging platform, exemplifies visual clutter reduction. Its clean, minimalist design emphasises white space and typography, allowing users to focus on content without distractions. By removing unnecessary visual elements and maintaining consistency, Medium lessens the cognitive load and provides a pleasurable reading experience.

Airbnb, a platform for booking accommodations and experiences, is another example. Its website displays large, high-quality images of properties and experiences with minimal text and a straightforward booking process. By eliminating visual clutter and prioritising key information, Airbnb simplifies browsing listings and making reservations without overwhelming users.

The Evernote app, a note-taking and organisation tool, also excels in minimising visual clutter. Its interface is clean and user-friendly, with a distinct content hierarchy that facilitates easy navigation between notes, notebooks, and tags. This simplicity reduces cognitive load and enables users to stay organised and efficient.

When designing a website or app, it's crucial to determine which information is necessary and which elements can be removed. Comprehending users' needs and the tasks they aim to complete will aid in developing a streamlined and effective content hierarchy. By minimising cognitive load through minimalist design, you can enhance the overall user experience.


Creating a user-friendly website that minimises cognitive load is essential for a delightful and engaging user experience. By paying attention to your design choices, simplifying content, and focusing on what truly matters to your users, you can foster an online environment that encourages learning, interaction, and loyalty. Implementing these strategies, you'll not only positively impact your users' experience but also cultivate a deeper connection with your customers and clients, who will appreciate their seamless, intuitive interactions with your content.

Remember, it's not about making drastic changes but refining and optimising your website to serve your audience better. So, take a step back, evaluate your website, and make those thoughtful adjustments that lead to a more compelling, accessible, and enjoyable online experience for everyone.