Seeking and finding information: The cognition of usable designs

To help users find the information they are looking for, technical communicators must understand the way users search for information. Only then will they be able to design materials that match the users’ search behavior.

Text by Kirk St.Amant


Image: © Avalon_Studio/

If individuals cannot locate a tool, feature, or function, they simply cannot use it. This is why the first step to creating usable designs involves identifying what individuals are looking for in different settings. Such processes are not random. Rather, they are governed by cognitive processes affecting how humans search for and locate items. The better technical communicators understand these dynamics, the more effectively they can create findable and usable designs.

The cognition of searching

How does the human mind locate objects? Two cognitive processes influence how people search for items based on an individual’s familiarity with a situation. The process a person uses depends on their prior familiarity with a task. This influences their seeking and locating behavior and what constitutes a findable and usable design. Familiarity with a product initiates a certain searching ...