This week on the IAP, we discuss research involving cognitive resources and how that affects usability and accessibility.
Show Notes & Links
Announcer: This is the IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast with Mike Guill and Mark Miller. Introducing Mike Guill and Mark Miller.
Mark Miller: Hi, I am Mark Miller and this is Accessibility Specialist Mike Guill and this is your Accessibility podcast. Hey Mike.
Mike Guill: Hey Mark. How are you doing?
Mark: Good. Your app makes me fat.
Mike: It does.
Mark: I just wanted to let you know that.So, this is nuts, right? Your App Makes me Fat is going all over the web right now by a website called Serious Pony. It's really interesting and I have to say, and we will get into what this means in a second, but I have to say that I do this. As I was reading this I was going, "Yes, yes, this is me."
Mark: Give a little explanation of the article and the overall point here and then I want to talk about why this applies to accessibility a little bit.
Mike: Ok, the researchers involved did this very lengthy pile of experiments and came to one conclusion. That is that will power and cognitive processing draw from the same pool of resources.
Mike: OK. So,when you deplete your tank, it doesn't matter what you spent it on, but it's gone. And they are easily depleted. That is the point. So if you spend all day dealing with things in their example...
Mark: things that require heavy cognitive processing...
Mike: Right. By when you get home you are on empty and so you snap at the kids or devolve or whatever...
Mark: or you eat junk food...
Mike: ...or you eat junk food ...
Mark: ...and that makes you fat.
Mike: ...you go raid the fridge and get cake.
Mark: So, in the overall point, what they are saying here, if that is the case the more complicated you make an application for someone to figure out or get around in then the more cognitive they have to be in order to operate that application the shorter attention span you are going to get from them.They may also overeat which could explain everything in the US right here. It conjures up that image, I don't remember the actor name but in Jurassic Park the one really geeky software guy that was sitting there working out all the software issues and he had all the empty candy wrappers...
Mike: Wayne Knight
Mark: ... and soda bottles and all that stuff around.
Mike: You're thinking of Wayne Knight.
Mark: Wayne Knight?
Mark: So its kind of funny but when we started here I said that I do this and what happens to me is when I get into that really cognitive maybe stressful situation I'll start eating like candy. I have the soft peppermint candies or whatever I have around. I'll just start cranking and I'll go get some candy. I'm like, let me go get some candy so I can figure this out. So, I'm with them. I think this is right on.
Mike: Now, see the interesting thing to me was that this touched on something that specifically discussed what your site or your app lets say costs your user that doesn't specifically have related to the app or the site. This is what I think the discussion could go off on a tangent. As a site or app owner you want that new sparkling thing to get noticed or get press notice or whatever - on TechCrunch or whatever. But what does it cost your user? Does it cost them something at home that really matters? The author of this article goes into saying maybe this isn't about consuming the time and attention while they are in your app or your site but its about draining...and this is a quote: "It's about draining your ability for logical thinking." I think that we as site developers and app producers, we want those shiny cool things in our site because we think that it is engaging. right?
Mark: I think that even from the standpoint of your website or application, if you want someone to continue through it, you need to look at how many of these resources you are burning up. For example, if you are selling something on your website but you blow that cognitive resource on the front end before they even get to the checkout cart and them the checkout cart becomes frustrating to them (and I've done this) you go, "I'm out of here."
Mike: Well, that was going to be my point as the author specifies, maybe this isn't necessarily about consuming their time and attention while they are in your app but I think it has a lot more to do with that.
Mark: Well, in the dog example, where they put one in the crate and made the other one stay - the one that had to stay with its own will power had to use up more cognitive resource. The one in the crate used less congitive resource. So when they gave them their favorite toy where they had to figure out how to get to the food that was inside the toy, the dog that had to use more cognitive resource by the stay gave up quicker over and over and over again. I think to me that was the one where I went, "Oh, my gosh. what if you are doing that to people on your site?" And, what if you've got people with disabilities that are hitting your site who are frustrated on the front end because their assistive technologies is not working right and they've got to go through something several times to figure out how to make it operate because what they are hearing is out of order from what you are seeing, whatever the case is...
Mike: and, lets not disregard someone with cognitive disabilities.
Mark: Out of the gate. Right, right.
Mike: So, this is a huge group of people where logically speaking we tend to lump them
one group. Quote, "People with cognitive disabilities" but what does that mean? There are so many types of cognitive disabilities out there and they are very difficult to understand. How do we make things accessible for all the various ways that people's brains work or how people are wired up to receive the content.
Mike: For whatever reason they get the content slightly askew or reversed or understood. That a very difficult piece of the population to address when it comes to accessibility yet we still try. So, if you are talking about people with cognitive disabilities and you're making something that has a huge cognitive load ...
Mark: forget it...
Mike: ...it takes a lot of effort...
Mark: Well, and I think that cognitive disabilities thing, there are a lot of sliders involved. You know what I mean? We tend to think of somebody with a severe case of dyslexia, or somebody with a severe case of ADHD or whatever the cognitive disability but...I flip numbers and I do not consider myself as having a severe case of dyslexia. I sometimes have a real hard time maintaining my focus especially during certain times of the day. I kind of consider myself maybe having some type of ADHD but not severe like I have seen some people. so it's not just the people with this these labeled, obvious disability but what about the rest of us that may be stretching in there a little bit and you are exhausting us as well. You know what I mean?
Mike: Right, right.
Mark: It not like some of the other disabilities like a user who is blind. Well, your blind or your not blind. There is low vision in there as well. If you need something magnified you need it magnified. If you don't you don't. But with those cognitive disabilities, sometimes I think they are undiagnosed. They are minor. They're major. There is not that black and white look at it.
Mike: Right. Like you said, you might have trouble flipping numbers around or attention but you might not be officially on the record as having any kind of disability.
Mark: That's right.
Mike: So, what that leads to, is how big is this population that we are actually talking about?
Mark: Yeah, that's hard to say.
Mike: You don't know. but I would say that its a lot bigger than our statistics are showing.
Mark: I would too. I mean if you aren't looking at clinical definitions, I think that is absolutely true especially in that cognitive space. I do think of this Mike in terms of a screen reader, which reads basically in order of the code, not in order of the visual presentation on the screen. So therefore they can get something out of order. Something as simple as a form, if you are filling out a form and all of a sudden you are presented with those form fields one at a time but out of order - so the continue button shows up before one of the choices you have to make - Can you imagine how frustrating that would be and maybe you go around the circle enough times to figure it out? But then what the heck is going to happen when you get to the next screen and the same thing occurs? You are going to say forget it.
Mike: That happened to me yesterday and I don't consider myself to be someone who has a disability other than sometimes a little thick headed and I have to wear glasses.
Mike: I was placing an order for something, helping my daughter. and we were going through the checkout form. I won't name the site but we were going through the checkout form and I was using the tab key just to tab between the form fields...
Mark: which is what a blind user would do.
Mike: ...because in one hand I had the credit card. I am not using the mouse so I am using the keyboard to type in all the numbers and all that. So, I was looking over at the credit card and not even looking at the screen or the keyboard that much because I have done this a million times. I am just hitting the tab going to the next thing and then I realize that all these numbers and stuff are all over the place. They are in the wrong fields...
Mark: Right, you are not tabbing in a logical order.
Mike: Right. So, I look up and I go back through using shift tab to go back through it and it is jumping all over the place.
Mark: Yeah. Like we said in another podcast - it's like playing Whack-A-Mole with your content. It shouldn't be a surprise where it pops up.
Mike: Yeah. Now with regard to this article and making things so difficult on your using and using up all their cognitive resources. I actually saw this happen a couple of years ago doing a usability test and usability study that let to the revision of a checkout process. what happened and what we saw was a huge amount of drop-off through the checkout process. What we found, and we did not write it up as nicely as this and we did not do the research to show all this, but what we found was that the users were in fact using up all their fun and load of cognitive resources before they got to the checkout process. There was a little more to it than a regular checkout because there was some potential volume going on - they had to put in stuff about credit and that kind of stuff - so there was a little more difficult in the first place but the way it was presented made it so there were too many choices, too much thinking and they baled - like "I'm done." They got to a certain point and they gave up.
Mark: Well, I hope people look at this article and I hope that they think about how they are designing based on this article. mainly Mike, because I don't want to see you get fat.
Mike: (laughs) Too late.
Mark: Too late.
Mike and Mark: (laugh)
Mark: alright, well, this is Mark Miller
Mike: and this is Mike Guill.
Mark: Reminding you to keep it accessible.
Announcer: The IAP - Interactive Accessibility Podcast brought to you by Interactive Accessibility, the accessibility experts. You can find their Access Matters Blog at Interactiveaccessibility.com/blog