Reducing Cognitive Overload: Declutter Your Design for Better UX 2

Reducing Cognitive Overload: Declutter Your Design for Better UX

How often do you declutter your home? 

We’ve all experienced the build-up of visual clutter in our kitchen, living room and workspace. 

It doesn’t matter how clean your home is – the kitchen worktop is never big enough, and the sideboard drawer is overflowing with junk mail and last year’s Christmas cards. 

And the spare room? Well, it’s probably best to just keep the door closed! 

Getting anything done in a cluttered or messy environment can be challenging. When your desk is drowning in a sea of paper, it’s impossible to concentrate on the task in hand. 

When it comes to UX design, the same principle applies. User interfaces can be difficult to use for many reasons, but the most common is ‘visual clutter’.

And while interfaces need to communicate, it can be tricky to strike the right balance between effective communication and just noise. 

What is Visual Clutter in UX Design?

If your user interface is inefficient, it’s probably down to visual clutter. Examples of visual clutter include:

  • Overused interface components
  • Information without a clear structure
  • Over-embellished typography
  • Visual elements and colour palettes fighting for attention

All of these factors can have a negative impact on the user experience. And that’s because visual clutter increases the cognitive load. 

Cognitive load describes the amount of working memory required to process the interface. As a result, visual clutter slows down the user, distracts them from the task at hand and leaves them feeling frustrated and overwhelmed. 

We see this often. We know it’s not intentional – after all, websites scale up over time with multiple contributors, products and services, product teams and marketing managers – and they’re all pushing to update content, improve functionality and re-brand. 

But when this happens, the purpose of the page can be lost. 

5 Ways to Reduce Visual Clutter in Your UX Design

Good news – you can do a few things to reduce visual clutter. And by removing unnecessary visual clutter, you can improve the overall user experience. Read on to learn more. 

Question the Purpose

Whether you’re working on a live site or some wireframes you’re planning to test, take a step back. Question why each element is there in the first place. What purpose does it serve? 

If you can’t answer confidently, it probably doesn’t need to be there. You can use this approach to review everything from the level of information and functionality to the use of design embellishments. 

Identify the Priorities

Think about your users – what is their main priority? What do they want to achieve? Your job is to help them reach these goals – so having a good understanding is crucial to the success of the page and, ultimately, conversion. 

Make sure the messaging and page structure is tailored to these priorities. Sure, you can have secondary elements that convey trust or offer alternative avenues, but the primary focus should always be addressing the user’s needs. 

Organisation and a clear visual hierarchy are key. This can help you to distinguish between must-have features and good-to-have extras. 

Make use of Progressive Disclosure

A common mistake you want to avoid is overwhelming users. This can happen in a few different ways. It could be the volume of the information presented or feature-rich web pages that require a steep learning curve to engage with. This can lead to unnecessary stress on the user.

Remember, ‘clicks’ aren’t the enemy. Putting less popular features or information behind a ‘click’ should never be frowned upon. 

Progressive disclosure offers a number of benefits, including: 

  • Improved first impressions
  • Empowers users by giving them control
  • Easier to use – the learning curve is reduced
  • Helps the user to stay focused on the most critical actions and content
  • Cleaner, simpler and more productive interface

Minimise Overcomplicated Aesthetics

The embellishments we choose to add to a design can be the difference between a beautiful, intuitive interface and an overcomplicated design. Embellishments should be used sparingly – ask yourself what they bring to the design? How do they help the user to interpret the interface?

For example, a user interface can start to look messy when you introduce nested components. Each one contains a stroke, and these strokes actually make it harder for the user to decipher the information. If you want to add structure, try using white space instead. 

Small details like this can hinder comprehension. It takes longer for the user to process the individual elements. Try stripping the design back until it looks clean and still makes sense. If your interface starts to lose structure, try adding things back in. This method offers you a good baseline from which to test and iterate from. 


The process of removing visual clutter in your UX design should be subtle. If you take things too far, your pages might lose their purpose or become less intuitive. Your goal is to empower users – so you should avoid making the interface more difficult to use for the sake of aesthetics. 

Decluttering your UX design should also be an iterative process. Test it repeatedly until you find a happy medium. It’s all about balance, and it can take time to get it right. Use tools and data that support your theories and always keep the user at the forefront of your mind. 

Marc Bowers
Marc Bowers
Articles: 14

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