Usable design – giving users what they expect

Usability is determined by how quickly our users can identify a certain function of our product and use it – a process strongly linked to our users’ experiences and expectations. Here is how understanding cognitive processing can lead to better, more usable designs.

Text by Kirk St.Amant


Usable design – giving users what they expect

Nothing is inherently usable. Rather, usability reflects how our minds process sensory input to identify and categorize objects. If we understand such processes, we can create materials that match them and develop more usable designs. Doing so involves learning how the brain organizes information and designing materials that address these processes. 

Cognition and data processing 

Cognition describes how the mind identifies, organizes, and responds to information. While our brains operate with amazing speed, there are limits on how much information we can process at once. This is often referred to as cognitive load, which is connected to short-term memory. 
When we encounter something, our brains must 

  • Identify what that item is (e.g., a pen)
  • Classify what it does (e.g., allows us to write words on a page)
  • Determine what to do with it in a particular context (e.g., take notes for ...