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There are both Physical and mental actions needed to achieve any goal. This is referred to as the Performance Load. What this means is that if the load in a performance is high in demand, both time and errors increase and so goal accomplishment chances decrease. If the load is low, time and errors decrease, in turn increasing the likelihood of accomplishing goals.



The Cognitive load theory “suggests that learning happens best under conditions that are aligned with human cognitive architecture.” (Sweller, 1988)

This refers to the level of mental activity needed to reach accomplishment in a goal and is measured through perception, memory and problem solving.

There are many strategies used to reduce Kinematic load including:

  • Minimizing visual noise
  • Chunking information that is to be remembered
  • Using memory aids to assist in recalling and problem solving
  • Automating computation and memory intensive tasks

To me, this is the difference between describing an image and showing someone an image. The simple act of seeing what somebody is describing makes it so much easier to understand what someone is talking about. When applying this to design, simply including images which link to a subject could make a huge difference in someones learnability of your product. For example, using instruction manuals to put together a piece form Ikea makes all the difference and can save us a lot of time.


Figure 1. Cognitive Load Example. (Source: Ikea, 2015)


Referring to the level of Physical activity which is needed to reach accomplishment in a goal. This is measured through the amount of steps or movements and the force required.

  • Steps needed to finish a task
  • As little range of motion as possible
  • As little travel distance as possible
  • Automating repetitive tasks

“Design should minimize performance load to the greatest degree possible.” (Lamble, Holden, Butler, 2003)

Take Automatic cars for example:

When switching to an automatic from a manual vehicle, we have reduced the amount of steps needed to drive the vehicle, in fact we don’t even need to move our hands from the steering wheel. This shift in Cognitive load allows us to focus on other factors we come across while driving, obstacles on the road, weather conditions and people in the backseat.

Applying this to design, by reducing the amount of physical steps needed to complete a task, we are able to focus more intently on the necessary steps remaining in order to get us closer to attaining that goal.

auto car

Figure 2. Kinematic Load Example. (Source: Want Driving Lessons Driving School, 2015)


Lidwell, W., Holden, K., Butler, J. (2003). Performance Load. In Universal Principles of Design (pp. 148-149). Massachusetts: Rockport.

Paas, F. G. and J. J. Van Merriënboer (1994). “Instructional control of cognitive load in the training of complex cognitive tasks.” Educational psychology review 6(4): 351-371.

Sweller, J. (1988). “Cognitive load during problem solving: Effects on learning.” Cognitive science 12(2): 257-285.