Performance Load

“In business, the idea of measuring what you are doing, picking the measurements that count like customer satisfaction and performance… you thrive on that.”– Bill Gates


“Performance load is the degree of mental and physical activity required to achieve a goal.” (Lidwell, 2003) It is the principle that explains that if a performance load is low, requiring little effort, the time to complete the goal lowers and the success rate rises. Where as when a performance load is high, requiring a lot of effort, the amount of time rises and the success rate lowers. Products therefore should aim for a lower performance load so customers are happier and less frustrated. Performance loads are broken into two categories: cognitive load and kinematic load.

Cognitive load:

Cognitive load is the amount of mental exhaustion a task requires. The cognitive load has to do with a person’s cognitive architecture ie their primary knowledge (what we are born knowing eg breathing) and secondary knowledge (what we learn from our cultural experiences eg talking). It is through our cognitive architecture that we mentally problem solve through a task. (Sweller, Ayres & Kalyuga, 2011) The gap between starting a task and completing a task is referred to as a “problem space” and if it is too large you risk the customer’s mind being overloaded. (“Cognitive Load Theory,” 2017) A way to minimize cognitive load is by reducing outside interference’s (ie noise), chunking information etc. (Lidwell, 2003)

Kinematic load:

Kinematic load is the physical exertion required of a task. (Lidwell, 2003) Back in the day of phones with rotary dials, you would have to rotate the dial round to each number of a phone number before ringing. The increased physical exertion meant there was an increased risk at accidently dialing the wrong number. These days with smart phones you simply press a contact name or just scream at siri to dial a certain contact, cutting down the physical exertion immensely. To reduce the kinematic load you need to reduce the amount of steps it takes to complete a task ie minimizing distance required to travel. (Lidwell, 2003)


 Chunking Information


“Chunking” information is a way of reducing a customer’s cognitive load. “Chunking” refers to the grouping of information (“chunks” of information) to make the use of the short-term memory more effective. (“Chunking Strategy”, n.d.) The overall concept of “chunking” splits large pieces of information into chunks, identifies similarities within the information, categorizes the information and groups it into smaller/manageable units. ( Laird, 2012)

The working memory of a person can only handle so much information and so by “chunking” the information you are summarizing a large piece of information that will be used later. In result it shortens the “problem space” to complete a task. “Chunking” information has been proven to improve the visual clarity of a task as well as improve the retention of information within a complex instructional framework. (Educational Technology Publications, 1998)

With regards to reading, when have we ever looked at a large piece of non-fiction writing and said, “Yes! I can’t wait to get into that!” Well I don’t know about you but I certainly haven’t. By “chunking” information you’re giving your audience smaller portions to get through making the task less tedious and the overall design of the content more appealing. If a task looks like it’s going to take a long time to do it, it won’t be done. People are naturally drawn to information that looks concise, clear and to the point; in a world where we are constantly bombarded by information we don’t go looking for the long answer, purely the short one. “Chunking” information is an effective tool in reducing information but still keeping the quantity of it.


Learning Psychology, is it worth it for Design?


Developed by the Berlin School of Experimental Psychology, “Gestalt” are the collection of theories that explain “how people tend to organize visual elements into groups…” (“The Psychology of Design Explained,” 2013) The theories take into account how the brain organizes itself and when used in logos, makes them more memorable. It includes theories such as:

Implied shape: a shape that does not exist but is implied through the psychological connection of lines, dots etc (“Art Fundamentals,” 2017)

Negative space: the space around an object that makes it more appealing. (“A solid Understanding of Negative Space,” 2012)

But is it worth studying psychology to improve your design? Personally I think yes. Director of Branding of Aesop, Ed Woodcock says,

“To be a good designer in today’s society, you need to have an understanding of psychology, human behavior, and the little shortcuts, the little quirks, in the way people operate.” (“The Psychology of Design Explained,” 2013)

Do I think you should take a whole course, no, particularly if you don’t plan on becoming a psychologist, however like Ed said an understanding in it is crucial to improve your designs.


3 Examples that reduce Performance Load


Food Delivery sites

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Food delivery sites such as Menulog, Eatnow and Dominoes reduces the kinematic load significantly for a person who has access to a computer or mobile device. While I would say the same cognitive load is required, as you’re still reading a menu and entering your details, the kinematic load drops significantly. Online food delivery services allows for a person to receive a meal they’d probably have to drive to and also frees them of having to talk to a human being. Websites like Dominoes has a feature that allows you to order a previous order, reducing the cognitive load as you don’t have to remember what to order etc.


Delivery Florists

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It used to be you had to race to a florist, pick out an arrangement and then drive it to your loved-one for them to get some flowers. Now with so many florists doing same-day deliveries that reduces both the kinematic and cognitive load. Now you no longer have to travel to get your flowers delivered, reducing the kinematic load. But also some flower delivery websites simply ask you to select a price range and the florist will pick the arrangement themselves, reducing cognitive load. Not only do these sites reduce product load but it allows for people away to still be able to treat their loved ones.


Online Studying

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Many universities these days give students the ability to study online. While this doesn’t reduce the cognitive load, as you’re still learning a lot in a short amount of time it does reduce the kinematic load as you no longer have to travel to learn the content. Online university has made people like parents, adults with full-time work or even people with health conditions the ability to study and further their education.



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

Sweller, J., Ayres, P., & Kalyuga, S. (2011). Cognitive load theory (Explorations in the learning sciences, instructional systems and performance technologies). New York: Springer.

Cognitive Load Theory, (2017). Retrieved from

The Psychology of Design Explained, (2013). Retrieved from

Art Fundamentals, (2017). Retrieved from

A solid Understanding of Negative Space, (2012). Retrieved from

Chunking Strategy, (n.d.). Retrieved from

Laird, J. (2012). The soar cognitive architecture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Educational Technology Publications, (1989). Interactive Video.


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