Posted in Design principles, Designing with the mind in mind, UX Examples

Recognition over Recall

My daughter is 6 1/2, and she is an avid reader.    She has six different series that she’s reading through.  But spelling will bring her to tears.  Literally.

It took me a while to understand why, even though I just finished reading the book, Designing with the Mind in Mind.

My daughter will read a whole chapter book without any help, but she can’t put the letters together.  How is that possible?  She’ll see the letters, and put the meaning to those letters, but when she has to remember how to put those letters together in the same configuration, it blows her little mind.

The reason behind this behavior is explained by the interaction design principle of “Recognition over Recall”.  As explained in Designing with the Mind in Mind, the human brain has an easier time recognizing shapes and it’s meaning, rather than recalling that shape or meaning out of thin air.  Our gray matter recognizes shapes and objects in front of us, and connects those to meaning, but has a hard time remembering without anything in front of us as a reminder.

This is why notes work to jog our memory or a string on the finger used to be the traditional reminder.

This is also why Graphic User Interfaces (GUIs) work better in many instances over the void that is the DOS interface.  DOS relies on a user’s memory, or ability to refer to thousands of pages of manuals and lists, to know how to do things.  GUIs lay out options in the menus.

This is why user experience designers want to keep the user’s goal in mind throughout a workflow or process.  What is the end-goal, and how can we keep that recognizable?  What else does the user need to do at this point?  Do they need to be reminded of this earlier in the process?  Will it make their life easier?

What you DON’T want to do, is assume a user will remember how to do something.  We don’t want to MAKE them remember what they need to do next.  It needs to be obvious.  And it needs to be obvious in the environmental and mental state the user will be in right at that moment in the workflow.

Customer journey mapping is one tool that will help to discover and document the customer’s environmental and mental states through a process.

What I want to do next is find some good examples of ‘Recognition over Recall’ and post that here.  Watch this space!

Have you noticed examples – on websites, apps, or real-life – of when recognition works better than recall?  Have you seen examples of bad UI when the user is expected to remember how to do something?  I’d love to hear your comments!

 

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