UX Writing, Cognitive Load, and What They Have in Common with IT and Power Platform Apps?

Jacek Szafader Jacek Szafader April 5, 2024

During the development of applications by IT companies, their main priority becomes developing solution architecture, incorporating the latest technologies, and ensuring a high level of security. These aspects are crucial from the perspective of professional engineers.

However, during the construction of business applications, whether using the Power Platform or another framework, a key element often overlooked is the communication with users. This concerns how an app “communicates” with the user. Typically, we assume that the application structure, based on familiar tables and processes, will be intuitive for all employees, for example, when the application is simply a transfer of a familiar Excel spreadsheet used by the entire company. Something everyone felt comfortable with. However, transferring these processes to a dedicated business application can pose certain challenges and risks.

During application development, we transfer our traditional business processes from Excel spreadsheets or email chains – which constitute a sort of culturally established process – to more advanced, interactive, and automated platforms. Unfortunately, often in this process, we lose the context for our employees that they had before, which was often hidden in those emails, Excel files, etc. Previous tools allowed for discussions and easy communication according to certain established rules known to everyone, while new applications often limit interactions to simple tables and clicking on specific statuses. They do not allow for comments, shifting, or glancing at the cell next door. This can make even experienced employees feel lost, and newcomers may have difficulty adapting to the new way of working. If we do not ensure proper communication, we may expose our employees to frustration, decrease work efficiency, and discourage them from using the new system. Additionally, improper implementation can contribute to cognitive overload, which can limit the ability to effectively process information.

What is cognitive load?

According to theory, in positional situations, the level of cognitive load may vary depending on the task difficulty. As a result, a task requiring intense concentration, analysis, and problem-solving may generate greater cognitive load than a task with lower difficulty. Research on cognitive load allows for a better understanding of how the human mind copes with various challenges and what mechanisms are involved in information processing, improving the quality of actions, and the effectiveness of decision-making, all under the influence of different levels of cognitive load.

How to Avoid Cognitive Load and Make Business Applications Meaningful

When building applications, we cannot limit ourselves solely to technical aspects such as processes, data fields, or permissions. We must primarily think about the user of this application – the employee who will be working with it. It is essential to ensure that the information presented in the application is clear and consistent with reality. Therefore, the priority is to ensure that all elements of the user interface are easy to interpret and communicate with the user in an intuitive manner.

In addition to engineers and project managers, an important element of a successful implementation is the presence of a UX Writer. This person, possessing advanced editorial skills, is responsible for ensuring consistency, clarity, and understandability in the user interface. Awareness of this role is crucial, as the UX Writer collaborates with both the technical and business teams. Often, this person is recruited from the project or implementation team, but it is vital that someone takes on this role, understands its importance, and is not contradicted or undermined by other “helpful” individuals.

The Importance of Words and Consistency

If we ask employees of a company about the meaning of a specific word or status in a process without providing full context, we will quickly notice that each person has a different understanding of the term. This indicates that interpretation is subjective, leading to ambiguity. For example, the status “on hold” can be interpreted differently and may not always reflect what the organization intends to convey.
In Excel spreadsheets, which often serve as applications and business processes, the same elements can be named differently across various sheets. This happens because such files are developed gradually, with each new person adding new features according to their needs and preferences. Sometimes the creator of the application we are building used a different term because it fit the context better or was shorter. As a result, an excess of information and definitions often arises, which can be contradictory and lead to inefficiency.

Simplicity and Definition

When building a business application, we focus on flow diagrams, actions, and responsibilities. These are often prepared by hired specialists, documented, and treated as sacred. Is it worth adhering strictly to the terms from the process diagram approved by management? Is there a risk that these terms will not be understood uniformly by everyone? Highly likely. When a group of employees heads to the cafeteria, they rarely say, “We are initiating the lunch extraction process, according to the diagram, moving human resources to the cafeteria rooms via corridors and doors, with an estimated process time of 30 minutes.” Instead, someone yells, “Let’s go eat,” and everyone understands the process and its steps.

So, how should we approach this issue and avoid getting caught up in theoretical discussions?

Organize Workshops to Determine:

  • Does the team have a unified understanding of terminology, or are there differences in interpretation?
  • Are terms like status names and field names concise yet unambiguous?
  • Are the names consistent for every employee and in every context, or are there variations in terminology?
  • Is the language simple and universal?
  • Is the tense and form used consistently (e.g., always using the perfective or imperfective verb form, and does it convey a specific meaning for us)?
  • What language dominates our communication – native or foreign?
  • Do we have accessible resources such as a glossary, online help, or user instructions?

If there are differences in term interpretation within our team, it is worth continuing the discussion and developing a tailored solution:

  • Stick to one language, avoiding mixing the native language with English or another language.
  • Establish a single linguistic form: determine whether terms like “statuses” refer to something completed, like “verified,” or to an ongoing action, like “verifying” in the context of a control process.
  • Use colloquial language and common word meanings to avoid unnecessary reinterpretations and ensure that the linguistic code is shared between the sender and the receiver.


So what can we do to ensure that business applications make sense? First and foremost, we need to go beyond just the technical side of the project and compliance with established processes. It’s crucial to designate someone responsible for effectively communicating the system to employees. It’s also important to move away from outdated methods like Excel spreadsheets or PDF files. When designing a new application, we mustn’t forget about the users’ needs and regular communication with them. By prioritizing intuitiveness and simplicity, we can avoid cognitive overload.