1 January 2006
In a previous article regarding cognitive conserving it was explained that using it our brain is "lazy" and tends to search for familiar patterns in new stimulations in order for the brain to be able to apply them to the stimulation and not need to learn them from scratch. It was emphasized that by using Knowledge Management methods we are able to utilize this tendency for our advantage and improve orientation in portals, knowledge systems and contents.
In this term, we would like to present the other side of this matter, which is the term "need for cognition". The need for cognition is a tendency some us have (not all of us) to search and think intensely. What is the difference between most of us and people who show this tendency?
While some of us tend to avoid activities that require much thinking, those who have a high need for cognition show a high inner motivation for thinking.
While most of us prefer visual hints and references, those with a high need for cognition prefer media rich with information and prefer to process information verbally rather than visually.
A research in New Zealand shows that people with a high need for cognition rated products/websites highly attractive when the products featured high verbal complexity and low visual complexity. This in contrast to those with a medium/low need for cognition that preferred websites with high visual complexity and low verbal complexity.
Who are the people with a high need for cognition? Contrary to what we might initially think, a high need for cognition is not shared exclusively by geniuses or gifted people. This is a trait that can be found in any one of us in different levels and can change regarding different interests in one person (a high in a field one is interested in and a low need in a field one finds boring). Nevertheless, if we make the mistake of generalizing we might say that this trait is dominant mainly around engineers and people dealing with research and development as well as people with high technical abilities (such as mechanics).
How is this information useful? A known phrase from the world of theatre states: "know your audience".
A portal/community/website's design can have a substantial affect on its users' opinion. When designing the site for potential users, we must take into consideration an additional factor: the users' need for cognition. For a user population characterized by a high need for cognition (for example, analysts), verbal presentation is more preferable than complex visual presentation. A use of characteristics which are supposed to be attractive, such as banners, Pop Ups or animation can disturb our users' natural processing and we therefore need to channel the website-building resources towards a verbal text.
On the other hand, if most of our users have a low need for cognition (for example, people who work under pressure and a tight schedule), it is recommended that the portal include visual references and less text).
In any case, it is important to remember that design is not just for decoration.
When characterizing and constructing a Knowledge Management solution, we must always think "through the users' eyes" and remember that although some designs and applications can be perceived by website builders and computer personnel as attractive, innovative and groundbreaking they are not always the best response to the users' needs.