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How We React to Clutter

Since the previous post was all about the way clutter affects our preferences, this post will be about how it changes the way we interact with cluttered products.

The Science

Researchers placed participants in an fMRI machine and had them interact with different interfaces and images. Some were real world images, others just still images of a scene, and yet others a functional user interface.

The results showed a clear link between the amount of clutter shown, and participant's ability to focus or properly process information. The fact that participants were looking at a cluttered image, literally changed their brain's ability to process information.

The Practice

The number of elements that should be placed on a page vary wildly, depending on the complexity of the task you wish your users to fulfill.

An interface used by professionals every day, can afford many more buttons and nobs on the screen than an interface a user is expected to understand intuitively.

A landing page, for example, is plagued with entirely new users all the time, who need to be funneled into the site. There is one thing to do, and that's click the action button. This requires as few distractions as possible, and so every pop up, or extra element, will lower your conversion rate.

In order to decide how many elements on the screen are too many, you must first ask yourself who your users are. How much new information are they expected to process? Are the new to your system? How many tasks would you like them to perform?

Know the answer to these questions, and placing the right number of elements in your product will become a piece of cake.

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