Cognitive Fluency and its ability to innovate UX

08 January 2018

Psychology plays an integral part of user experience design. Designs lose their functionality if they fail to serve the users well or provide a negative user experience. It becomes vital then, to understand the psychology of the users as well as take psychological concepts into consideration while crafting UX Design.

So what is Cognitive Fluency? 

There are several principles of human psychology which come into play when it comes to understanding user experience. However, cognitive fluency is one of the most fundamental psychological concepts which influences user behaviour. Simply put, cognitive fluency is the ease with which we think about something. Cognitive fluency is the ability of our mind toease decision making by seeking out familiarity. A good example of this phenomenon at play can be found when one is making a change in their daily routine. Any new activity feels unfamiliar in the beginning. However, eventually, it blends into one's life and comes naturally. Our mind becomes fluent in processing the information quickly over time because we become habitual to it.

What determines Cognitive Fluency?

The ease with which we think about something differs from person to person. There are two main factors which help determine cognitive fluency.

Familiarity: The more you are familiar with something, the easier it is to do. And it this easier to do because of fluency. Familiarity plays a major role in determining fluency. Familiarity reduces cognitive load and eases processing information and decision making. An example for how familiarity triggers cognitive fluency can be found in the way we learn how to ride a bicycle. Initially, it is difficult to peddle, steer and balance. But over time we adapt to the act and grow accustomed. Bicycling becomes familiar and natural to a point that simply getting on the bike automatically triggers the actions needed to ride it.

(Image: Representational)

Subjective Experience: Familiarity can only be established via experience. The more you experience and encounter something, the familiar you become with it. Therefore fluency differs from person-to-person, between communities, cultures and nationalities because our life experiences differ from one another. Thus, cognitive fluency is subjective. Example, a vegetarian might not find a discount on chicken kebabs as attractive as a non-vegetarian would.

It is cognitive fluency which helps us process information, make associations and reach a conclusion.Familiarity and subjective experience makes it easy to process information and act on stimulus. Moreover, we tend to take action quickly if there’s cognitive fluency. For Example, someone who’s thirsty will automatically grab the bottle of water placed in front of him or her and drink it.

How does Cognitive Fluency affect UX?

Fluency determines the perception and judgement of the user. The need to seek ease in decision-making drives user-behaviour, thereby, leads and conversions as well. If the design lacks cognitive fluency, the user will not complete his journey. Therefore, UX Designers cannot afford to discount the significance of cognitive fluency. It is what helps the user connect with the design and persuades him or her to continue and take action on their journey. 

For example, the image below demonstrates how font and visual representation determines fluency and drives action. The one on the left is difficult to decipher. Therefore, the reader is most likely to ignore it. While the image on the right has a clear message as well as a graphic to let the reader know the warning in a single glance. Thus, the reader will notice the safety warning and put on ear protection.

(Illustration: Cognitive fluency plays a part in how easy we process information)

Another example of how a mere difference in fontcan affect fluency can be found in the example below. The one on the left is easy to read and communicates the intent clearly due to its appropriate font. While the one on the right is a little too artsy and mismatched for the instruction and makes the intent difficult to decipher. We tend to associate the font on the right with elegance like fancy items in a menu at an upscale restaurant. This is how familiarity influences fluency and affects action.

(Illustration: Cognitive fluency plays a part in how easy we process information)

How UX Design can use Cognitive fluency to innovate?

Every Designer strives to craft UX which is unique and original. However, if the exclusive design doesn’t connect with the users, it fails to serve its true purpose. Legibility is a factor that determines how functional the design will be in providing a good User Experience. And legibility of a design is determined by its fluency. For example, a design which serves American consumers will not be able to deliver the same results if targeted at Indian audiences. Because the fluency will differ between the two audiences. 

Tapping into the mind of the users is crucial to strike a balance between original, unique and fluent design. Fluency is to design what salt is to food, utmost necessary and detrimental to taste. A design will not be able to reach its potential to innovate if it does not connect with the end user because the user will not be able to complete the journey itself. 

That is why it is crucial to always have a User-Centric approach to UX Design. At TECHVED, we understand the users first, taking cognitive fluency into account while being innovative at the same time. Our work on Kotak's state-of-the-art account opening app, 811 took the psyche of users from Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities into account and then crafted an innovative user experience. This made virtual account opening more accessible and easier for the users. Cognitive fluency and originality can go hand-in-hand. Innovative UX Design isn't infusing new technology like AR into design or striving for uniqueness in design; it is taking familiarity and being a guiding light along the user's journey.


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