OBSCURI: ui overload

Mica MPS UXD capstone

Duration: January 2022 - May 2022 (16 weeks)
Role: Solo Researcher / Designer

Research Methods:
- Desk Research
- Comparative Analysis
- Surveys
- User Interviews
- Affinity Mapping
- Personas

Design Methods:
- Roleplaying & Concept Testing
- Wireframing
- Low Fidelity Prototyping
- Usability Testing
- Final Prototype / Demo

Users get overwhelmed with the amount of information presented on screens, as well as optimizing their productivity to screen ratio. How might we reduce UI cognitive overload for early career creatives for a more natural computing experience?

View PDF Presentation Here (Opens a new page)

Research session


I come back to my desk and workstation after a lunch break. Flipping up my laptop monitor and greeted with a flurry of screens and a myriad browser tabs, I can't recall exactly what I was doing.

This scenario is not unique to me and plagues the majority of any user that has touched a modern computer. Things get lost in between a million tabs, and these tabs get lost among a million open applications.


27 respondants formulated into three themes:

1. Desktop Clutter: 2/3rds of participants don't preventatively organize their desktop space. This causes users to focus on one to three applications, making it difficult to keep track of applications further down the stack.

2. Application Clutter: 1/3rd of participants force restart and refresh their applications when prompted to update or close out of applications. This causes users to forget where the important things are

3. Clutter Fatigue: All participants expressed frustration toward their own application organization and structure styles.

User interviews

A series of six semi-structured user interviews formulated into three focused themes:

1. Users feel that multitasking is necessary in today's workspace

2. Users want a reset button or quick access to organization tools without having to restart their computers

3. Users have difficulty remembering where to find specific information

- "Things should be separate, it's jarring to be stuck to a screen and rehab into reality and back again"


Two personas created around the data built from affinity mapping surveys and user interviews

Design session

roleplaying exercise

4 Participants structured around building hypothetical scenarios: 

“So let’s say you have the task of cleaning up your desktop. This can use AR/VR, or anything you think of - it just can’t use a traditional mouse and keyboard. Walk me through what that could look like for you.” 

concept testing

Test conducted with 3 users. The solution best received involves Voice with a digital set up and onboarding process.

This flow is meant to get buy-in as technology shifts cannot be jarring and users need to grow comfortable with voice technologies and need more hand holding rather than jumping straight into interaction.

prototype / demo

User expectations are met - all participants throughout the usability testing session were able to complete the flow and were satisfied with the demo concept

Next steps

build out feature set

Given more time, I would conduct further research on language processing to develop and design for varying degrees of English speaking people, as well as the potential to break into other languages.

OS agnostic

Obscuri currently is design for Windows desktop environments. I would like to test with more users across varying operating systems to see opportunity to expand and become increasingly accessible to different workstation setups with varying monitors, devices, and operating systems.

reflection & Lessons

challenge assumptions

Early on in my discovery design phase, I was given the advice to keep the solution technology agnostic. Internally, I immediately thought, "is it not obvious that AR/VR is the solution?".

Yet, without conducting the Roleplaying exercise and building that scenario, I never would have arrived to the answer of voice UI by myself. These users already have cultural or personal exposure and experience to voice with Siri, Google, and/or Alexa.

Data and sample size

It is easy for me to confirm the success of my isolated research and prototyping implementations; however, these tests may not encapsulate the entire story. I would love to conduct more research methods via ethnographic studies and develop an even deeper philosophical understanding of what it means to interact with machines.

references & citations

[1] What Is Information Overload?” The Interaction Design Foundation, https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/topics/information-overload. 

[2] “UI Overloaded”, https://typhoonandrew.wordpress.com/2013/06/03/ui-overloaded-in-25-mans/

[3] Biersdorfer, “Desktop Windows Organization”, New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/20/technology/personaltech/desktop-windows-organize-resize.html

[4] Kirschner, Femke, et al. “A Cognitive Load Approach to Collaborative Learning: United Brains for Complex Tasks.” Educational Psychology Review, vol. 21, no. 1, Springer, 2009, pp. 31–42, http://www.jstor.org/stable/23361552.

[5] https://store.steampowered.com/app/382110/Virtual_Desktop/

[6] MICA Course references on Macro Forces and Socio-cultural.