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2:5 Design for Working Memory Limitations

Relative Importance:

Relative Importance rating of 4 out of 5

Strength of Evidence:

Strength of Evidence rating of 5 out of 5

Document Type: Guideline


Topic:

General User Experience


Guideline:

Do not require users to remember information from place to place on a Web site.


Comments:

Users can remember relatively few items of information for a relatively short period of time. This 'working memory' capacity tends to lessen even more as people become older. One study compared the working memory performance of age groups 23-44 years and 61-68 years. The younger group performed reliably better than the older group.

When users must remember information on one Web page for use on another page or another location on the same page, they can only remember about three or four items for a few seconds. If users must make comparisons, it is best to have the items being compared side-by-side so that users do not have to remember informationeven for a short period of time.


Sources:

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  • Kennedy, A. & Wilkes, A. (1975). Studies in Long-Term Memory. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
  • LeCompte, D.C. (1999). Seven, plus or minus two, is too much to bear: Three (or fewer) is the real magic number. Human Factors and Ergonomics Society Annual Meeting Proceedings, 289-292.
  • LeCompte, D.C. (2000). 3.14159, 42, and 7 ± 2: Three numbers that (should) have nothing to do with user interface design. Retrieved November 2005, from http://www.internettg.org/newsletter/aug00/article_miller.html.
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  • Spyridakis, J.H. (2000). Guidelines for authoring comprehensible web pages and evaluating their success. Technical Communication, 47(3), 359-382.

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