1% Everyday – Human memory and chunking (Miller’s law)

Have you ever thought about why it is easier to remember a 10-digit phone number than just 10 numbers?

For example: read the following

7      3     4      2       1      6      1      5      8      1 

Close your eyes and repeat the 10 numbers …

Now if I show it as a telephone number

734 – 216- 1581

Close your eyes and repeat the 10 numbers …

Let’s describe working memory as this short-term ability to remember something just presented to you.

This working memory has a capacity on average for people … this is 7+/- 2 chunks of information.

If there is more than 7+/- 2 chunks of information, for most people, the probability of holding in working memory drops rapidly.

So a trick we use to remember things easier is to group items into chunks like with a phone number so that we can remember it.

We can exercise it in the working memory so that we can write down on a piece of paper or type it into our phone.

NNG on chunking in UX

Consider the following:

  • 7+/- 2 chunks of information is about memory and not visual processing – so if you want someone to remember something and then use it within 20s that is when it is important to chunk information into 5-9 items.
  • When in your designs do you expect someone to remember something and then act upon it? How many times in a call center do they ask the customer to take the call number or ticket number down?
  • When you go to leave a voice message and rattle off a string of information … how many times do you expect someone to replay your message so that they can write the information down?

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