6 — Every screen has weight

Humans are easily overwhelmed. They’re also bad at multitasking, holding too much information in their heads at once and will get bored easily. Whenever you’re deciding what to display to a user, you have to determine how much thinking you’re willing to burden on them.

Every time you display something to a person, you’re making them do work. Where am I? What is this thing? What can I do with it? How will this help me? Where do I go now? All of this will be fueled by an emotional state or driven motivation to get the objective done which puts these questions at a time disadvantage.

The idea here is to not overwhelm people when they don’t need to be. Their lives are complicated enough already. Take a moment to see if the objectives you’ve identified could be broken down even further. The objective of “edit account” is fine but it could be argued that breaking it down further into “upload new avatar”, “update delivery address”, “upgrade to new plan” is actually more beneficial. Few people say to themselves “I want to edit my account” but more say “I really need to update that goofy pic I set when I first signed up”.

There are three types of mental resources that get used when a user is interacting with something. Here they are, ordered by the weight of mental effort.

  • Cognitive – The mental effort of thinking, remembering or learning
  • Visual – The mental effort of processing what is seen
  • Motor – The mental effort physically moving to click or tap

When deciding what to show to a user, keep these three in mind. They each have weight and you have the power to decide how much weight you’re willing to put on to your users. Clicks or taps are cheap (motor), but only if it’s easy to comprehend what it is, what it does and what to do next (cognitive and visual).

Ask yourself if an objective can be broken down further. Ask yourself what those relationships are again between your objectives and your actions. The added separation and focus can actually be more efficient and effective for your user to complete their objectives.

Reducing the cognitive load is a wise move

There is a myth that no objective should take more than three clicks of a mouse. It’s not about reducing the clicks, it’s about reducing the thinking. Comprehending, remembering, learning and deciding are all expensive for a person. You should foot the bill, where possible.


Don’t overwhelm the user with too much at once. Every screen has weight. Consider the ordering of the mental processes to help you consider what to show at any given time.

Further learning topics: Cognitive Load, Visual Load, Motor Load, Miller’s Law, Progressive Disclosure

James Morris

Hey, I'm James 👋 I want to know what you think and would love some feedback. Just reach out over email. Say hey!