“Your stupid system makes me fat!”

One of my points is that stupid IT systems put a heavy cognitive load on the users. Cognitive processing – aka ”to have to think” – is actually hard work. We can see it in rising levels of stress and “workplace fatigue” – but in fact, also in experiments.

The brain’s main fuel is sugar. Kathy Sierra at Serious Pony tells us about an experiment where half the participants were asked to memorize seven-digit numbers, and the other half to memorize two-digit numbers. Afterwards, they were offered a choice of snacks.

The participants who memorized the seven-digit number were nearly 50% more likely than the other group to choose cake over fruit.

Complicated systems make you fat – from Serious Pony

It turned out, seven-number memorizers were much more likely to choose cake than the two-number memorizers (who preferred fruit).

In fact, I’ve observed that exact task performed many times a day while studying actual people at work: memorizing and trying to recall long, complicated passwords. Or having to memorize a social security number from one system, and entering it in another.

Kathy comments:

”If your app is confusing and your tech support / FAQ isn’t helpful, you’re drawing down my scarce, precious, cognitive resources. If your app behaves counter-intuitively – even just once – I’ll leak cog resources every time I use it (…)
And when I back away from the screen and walk to the kitchen … Your app makes me fat.”
(Your app makes me fat. Serious Pony, 24 July 2013)

More Kathy Sierra goodness: Featuritis vs. the Happy User Peak (Jan 1, 2014).

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