Determining your User’s Cognitive Style: The Future of Web Design?

By | June 26, 2008

Really interesting article from Technology Review about a Paper written by John Hauser, Glen L. Urban, Guilherme Liberali and Michael Braun.

It is about finding the user’s cognitive style (“a person’s preferred way of gathering, processing, and evaluating information”) by analyzing their pattern of click. In around 10 clicks the system can figure out whether a user is analytic, visually oriented or more holistic, impulsive for example.

[…]The changes would be subtle. “Suddenly, you’re finding the website is easy to navigate, more comfortable, and it gives you the information you need,” Hauser says. The user, he says, shouldn’t even realize that the website is personalized.[…]

[…]In addition to guessing at each user’s cognitive style by analyzing that person’s pattern of clicks, the system would track data over time to see which versions of the website work most effectively for which cognitive styles.

Their approach is very interesting:

[…]”morphing” the website automatically by matching web-site characteristics to customers’ cognitive styles. Our practical goal is to morph the website’s basic structure (site backbone) and other functional characteristics in real time. Website morph-ing complements self-selected branching, recommendations, factorial experiments, or customized content.[…]

According to the paper there are at least four technical challenges:

1. For first-time visitors, a website must morph based on relatively few clicks
2. The website must learn which characteristics are best for which customers (in terms of sales or profit)
3. To be practical, a system needs prior distributions on parameters
4. Implementation requires a real-time working system

The system is a bit complicate to put in place but in terms of e-commerce, it appears that this system could improve the sales up to 20%! In terms of web design, we need to be aware of these changes and think our design so they can be the more adjustable in a short future 🙂


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