What is Information Overload?
Information overload describes the excess of information available to a person aiming to complete a task or make a decision. This impedes the decision-making process, resulting in a poor (or even no) decision being made. When designing products (e.g., websites or apps), designers should be especially careful to ensure they prevent information overload from affecting the users' experience.
The term was coined by Bertram Gross, professor of political science, in his 1964 work, The Managing of Organizations. Information overload has been a problem throughout history, particularly during the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution periods. However, the dawn of the Information Age and access to powerful and low-cost data collection on an automated basis have brought us more information than was available at any other point in history. As a result, the problem of information overload is more relevant to designers than ever before.
Today, a crucial part of a user experience (UX) or user interface (UI) designer’s job is to ensure that just the right amount of information appears on a webpage or app screen—enough to make it relevant but not so much that it causes information overload. This is particularly salient because people may experience stress due to information overload. This stress was described as “information anxiety” by Richard Saul Wurman (information visualization pioneer and creator of the term “information architecture”). Wurman argues that information anxiety isn’t caused by the large amount of information in itself, but rather by the large amount of irrelevant information. Designers therefore have the task of designing information in such a way that it matches the information needs of users, a process that involves asking many questions. Nevertheless, by systematically identifying essential and nice-to-know material, designers can reduce the chances that information overload will spoil the user experience.
Literature on Information Overload
Here’s the entire UX literature on Information Overload by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
Learn more about Information Overload
Take a deep dive into Information Overload with our course User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide .
User experience, or UX, has been a buzzword since about 2005, and according to tech research firm Gartner, the focus on digital experience is no longer limited to digital-born companies anymore. Chances are, you’ve heard of the term, or even have it on your portfolio. But, like most of us, there’s also a good chance that you sometimes feel unsure of what the term “user experience” actually covers.
[User experience] is used by people to say, ‘I’m a user experience designer, I design websites’, or ‘I design apps.’ […] and they think the experience is that simple device, the website, or the app, or who knows what. No! It’s everything—it’s the way you experience the world, it’s the way you experience your life, it’s the way you experience the service. Or, yeah, an app or a computer system. But it’s a system that’s everything.”
— Don Norman, pioneer and inventor of the term “user experience”, in an interview with NNGroup
As indicated by Don Norman, User Experience is an umbrella term that covers a number of different areas. When you work with user experience, it’s crucial to have a good understanding of what those areas are so that you know what tools are available to you.
Throughout this course, you will gain a thorough understanding of the various design principles that come together to create a user’s experience when using a product or service. As you proceed, you’ll learn the value user experience design brings to a project, and what areas you must consider when you want to design great user experiences. Because user experience is an evolving term, we can’t give you a definition of ‘user experience’ to end all discussions, but we will provide you with a solid understanding of the different aspects of user experience, so it becomes clear in your mind what is involved in creating great UX designs.
If you are new to the Interaction Design Foundation, this course is a great place to start because it brings together materials from many of our other courses. This provides you with both an excellent introduction to user experience and with a preview of the courses we have to offer to help you develop your future career. After each lesson, we will introduce you to the courses you can take if a specific topic has caught your attention. That way, you’ll find it easy to continue your learning journey.
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