I've recently been finding analogies quite helpful when explaining something to clients. Something I'm explaining on a regular basis is that causing users to stop and pause to think about something can seem quite negligible (sometimes it can just be a half of a second pause), but when confronted with multiple instances of these pauses they can add up and amount to a bad user experience.

Does anyone have a good analogy for this? Any ideas welcome!

  • 2
    Steve Krug wrote an entire book on the subject, Don’t Make Me Think. You may find some good analogies therein (or just give a copy to your clients). In her book, Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra calls these small distractions “cognitive leaks.” Dec 29, 2018 at 14:26

4 Answers 4


Death by meeting ☠️

The best analogy I've come up with for office-dwellers is meetings. Both the scheduled and unscheduled variety apply, but the latter is the best parallel.

There's nothing more disruptive to productive workers than the constant task-switching of a meeting-culture office. Listen to a sad little story with me …

You have some big stuff on your list today
You put on your headphones and settle in
You pick the next problem or task from your list
You're really going to accomplish something today!
A meeting reminder pops up on your screen
All that hard work is flushed 🚽
Shuffle off to the conference room on floor 5
Spend the next hour wrapping your head around a totally new issue
One of the attendees pulls you aside to talk about follow-up
You talk for another 10 or 15 minutes
You roll back to your desk over an hour later
Just the thought of getting your head back in the zone exhausts you
15 minutes later you're back in your groove 🛫
An exec drops by to chat about something that's been on his mind 🛬

Interrupting your user's workflow is a lot like that in a little microcosm.


I have a demotivational poster behind my desk that sums this up quite nicely.

Irresponsibility- No single raindrop believes it is to blame for the flood.

It's in the owner's best interest to remove all distractions from the goal of the site/app/program. They add up quickly to become a major problem for the user.


A good analogy for this can be found in this article from nngroup:

Most computer users have learned that running too many programs at the same time can slow down or even crash the machine. We work around these limitations by closing programs when we aren't using them.

Just like computers, human brains have a limited amount of processing power.

Causing users to pause several times to think about what they are doing, add to their cognitive load, decreasing their performance.

  • 1
    This is a great one! Dec 28, 2018 at 18:10
  • 1
    Depending on the technical knowledge of the audience, you might also throw in some facts about how context switching between threads is expensive because the system has to reload the state from before the last switch. Humans have to do this, too.
    – jpmc26
    Dec 28, 2018 at 23:03

In a supermarket, customers might forgive having to wait in the checkout line once .. twice ..

but if it happens to often, they won't come back.

How's that? :)

  • 1
    I think a better shopping analogy is if the store were to randomly introduce unrelated things in an otherwise logical aisle. If the shopper was looking for their favorite cereal and was suddenly confronted with toilet paper in the middle of the cereal section, you could really screw with their head. Dec 29, 2018 at 0:34

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.