If you’ve ever been to an arena rock concert, you already understand cognitive processing. The crowd is on their feet for “Satisfaction” or “Born in the USA” but when the performer announces something from the new album, that’s when everyone goes to the bathroom. People like what they already know.
By learning just a few concepts about the brain and what it likes, you’ll be able to build a site and fill it with content that gets clicks and delights your audience.
Pattern recognition What is it: The brain’s desire to create familiarity in unknown circumstances.
What this means for your website: If people encounter something they don’t know, they’ll process it like something they’re already familiar with. For example, most of us expect that when we’re on the first page of an online store, we should be able to click on either the text or the image to get taken to a secondary page with more details. If a consumer visits a site that repeatedly confounds their expectations, they’re outta there. By all means, gets creative with the content, but stick to best practices for your site’s overall function.
Who’s doing it right: Boohoo is like every trendy retailer ever, which is why teens love it.
Cognitive load What it is: Just like a computer, the human brain only has a certain amount of power to process something. Cognitive load is the amount of mental resources required for a task.
What this means for your website: Get rid of clutter – duplicated links, pictures that don’t serve a purpose, thick text blocks. Provide simple instructions with a clear call to action. Use consistent, intuitive, and predictable interface. Users will stick around for longer, come back more frequently, and make it further down your funnel.
Who’s doing it right: IMDB uses the right balance of words and pictures, and nothing extra.
Cognitive fluency What it is: The simpler something is, the more likely the brain is to accept it as true.
What this means for your website: Cognitive fluency is a good argument for minimalism—using simpler sans-serif fonts and telling a complex story in pictures and infographics.
Who’s doing it right: Youtube is WYSISYG, every time.
For extra credit In one cognitive fluency study, participants were asked to read about an exercise routine. Half those surveyed got instructions printed in a complicated font, the others got instructions in a basic font. Those who got the ‘difficult’ font estimated the routine would take twice as long, compared to those who got the simple font. And those who got the simple text were much more willing to try it!