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Cognitive Psychology and Content Design

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Chris Atherton at ConCon4 (London, 22nd September 2016)

Published in: Government & Nonprofit

Cognitive Psychology and Content Design

  1. 1. Chris Atherton Head of Design Dept for Business, Innovation & Skills @finiteattention Cognitive psychology and content design All of this was true when I started writing this talk …
  2. 2. 1. attention 2. vision 3. working memory 4. cognitive load 5. words 6. stress 7. questions?
  3. 3. 1. attention
  4. 4. two attentional systems:
  5. 5. a) getting your attention quick, free, effortless
  6. 6. Checking out some rusty old farm machinery in a park in Stockholm, as you do …
  7. 7. O HAI, TWITTER LOGO
  8. 8. Must … not … press … most obvious button … NNGGGGGGHHHH
  9. 9. b) keeping your attention tends towards impossible
  10. 10. (content) design = attention management
  11. 11. 2. vision
  12. 12. Quinlan & Wilton, 1999 Visual perception seems to happen in a particular order:
  13. 13. Quinlan & Wilton, 1999 first Grouping by spatial layout (things that are near each other ‘belong’ together)
  14. 14. Quinlan & Wilton, 1999 second Then we start looking at more qualitative features, like colour …
  15. 15. third? … or features and local shape
  16. 16. Visual object recognition progresses (broadly) from global to local
  17. 17. So when we’re seeing a page on GOV.UK …
  18. 18. It starts as a grey-scale layout of shapes
  19. 19. … then colour and smaller features resolve
  20. 20. … before text and (eventually) meaning (I say ‘eventually’ — less than half a second)
  21. 21. blocks of words are objects first my point: visual weight on the page acts like a magnet for attention long before meaning is involved
  22. 22. 3. working memory
  23. 23. Long term memory rehearsal or meaning Short term/ working memory working memory is a very leaky bucket
  24. 24. recall of words from a list presented sequentially "Serial position" by Obli (talk) (Uploads) - Obli (talk) (Uploads). Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Serial_position.png#/media/File:Serial_position.png
  25. 25. Rehearsed and/or lacks interference Still in the leaky bucket
  26. 26. 7 ± 2 Miller, 1956Miller, 1956 the leaky bucket can hold this relates to new, unrelated words/digits/etc
  27. 27. 4 ± ? Cowan, 2001Cowan, 2001 the leaky bucket can hold much more recent evidence suggests …
  28. 28. your screen sidebar: it’s messed up that we mostly read in landscape but design documents for portrait.
  29. 29. fuzzy OK OK great
  30. 30. we should never ask people to hold stuff in the leaky bucket
  31. 31. 4. cognitive load Cognitive load as a thing is kind of unfalsifiable, but it’s a useful framework?
  32. 32. intrinsic cognitive load ~ number of moving parts a task can have …
  33. 33. extraneous cognitive load extra moving parts added by the delivery medium …and …
  34. 34. working memory has very limited capacity
  35. 35. intrinsic load extraneous load transfer to LTM low intrinsic load and extraneous load = more resources left for absorbing info
  36. 36. extraneous load transfer to LTM intrinsic load a complex piece of information leaves you fewer resources for storing the information
  37. 37. intrinsic load extraneous load transfer to LTM likewise, an overly burdensome way of presenting information makes it hard to grasp
  38. 38. your mission: reduce extraneous cognitive load
  39. 39. reducing policy complexity (intrinsic load) is the long game
  40. 40. we can reduce extrinsic load right now with better (content) design
  41. 41. 5. words
  42. 42. Psycholinguistic determinants of question difficulty http://www.suristat.eu/document/documentArticle/ Faass_et_al.pdf Effects of survey question comprehensibility on response quality http://www.timolenzner.de/resources/Lenzner+2012.pdf These are really interesting papers.
  43. 43. infrequently-used words — context vs. word dominance The authors talk about …
  44. 44. imprecise terminology — vague pronouns (e.g. ‘it’) The authors talk about …
  45. 45. imprecise terminology — ambiguous word parts The authors talk about …
  46. 46. complex syntax — ‘garden path’ sentences The authors talk about …
  47. 47. complex syntax — burying the lede The authors talk about …
  48. 48. many logical operators — e.g. ’or’ The authors talk about …
  49. 49. passive voice The authors talk about …
  50. 50. Nice.
  51. 51. nominalisations — ‘enforce a restriction’ vs. ‘restrict’ The authors talk about …
  52. 52. bridging inferences The authors talk about … (making people do the hard work themselves rather than spelling it out is, well, mean.)
  53. 53. how do we convince people of the value of plain language?
  54. 54. go play on scholar.google.com as content designers, you are well equipped to make sense of this wordy stuff :)
  55. 55. your primary evidence is always data from user research … your context matters, though. See the current psychology replicability crisis.
  56. 56. 6. stress disclaimer: way out of my wheelhouse. See my former colleague @Drsurvival :)
  57. 57. this is the ‘dunker’, where oil rig workers have to train to ditch out of a flying helicopter (!)
  58. 58. Survival — Mind and Brain https://thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-24/edition-1/ survival-%E2%80%93-mind-and-brain super-accessible paper on the effects of acute stress on cognition. One to ponder.
  59. 59. design for limited working memory When we do this, we improve GOV.UK for everyone, not just those under great stress.
  60. 60. don’t make people rely on the leaky bucket
  61. 61. 6. questions
  62. 62. Susan Weinschenk: 100 things every designer needs to know about people https://www.amazon.co.uk/Things-Every-Designer- Needs-People/dp/0321767535 people always ask me what they can read. This is great:
  63. 63. Thank you :) @finiteattention

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