Designing for Users with Poor Memory

One of the main fields in cognitive psychology is memory – how we’re so bad (or good) at it. Humans can only memorize a little bit in short-term memory before it goes away. Chunking helps with this, which may be why phone numbers are split with 3 digits and then 4 digits. See the whole mess of 7 numbers 34729523 is harder to visually sparse. When we break wholes into meaningful units, we can memorize a lot more than usual too. So, 07-04-1976 may be easier to remember when seeing it as a single chunk – the declaration of independent, rather than an equal number of digits 38-94-7204 which likely has no meaning. Chunk when possible.

We also keep stories and songs as a single unit in memory. Ask a musician to start singing from the third verse of the song. They might struggle. Ask them to sing from the beginning and it’s easy. It’s because the musician didn’t memorize it based on various elements, but knows the song as a single chunk (or possibly a few chunks).

Making up your own security questions will result in more accurate entries than default security questions. For instance, they always ask who my favorite teacher in school was. Well, I usually put Shimmon or Spellicy but I can’t be certain which one I’d put. And what about case-sensitive? If I make my own, I tend to use a coded phrase anyways such as “last attack 2nd abra” which translates clearly to me as “What is Kadabra’s last attack?” which was a favorite trivia question growing up for me.

When you give instructions, especially long ones with multiple steps, don’t ever make them go away. Don’t force the user to take a screenshot because the instructions will disappear. Users can’t and don’t want to try to memorize anything. Make it easy for them!


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