Memory & Web Design

What Was I Looking At Again?

Most people have short-term memory issues.  What does this mean and why is it important to consider when designing? When we encounter something new, online or in the real world, our memory is shortened. Meet a new person or discover a new product: “What was their name again?”  We use some of our mental capacity to understand what we are seeing and this limits our memory. This is one reason why intuitive designs are more engaging. Our mind shifts from understanding something new to remembering something familiar.

Think about that.

Our memory works better with things we have seen before or are familiar to our brain. If we design in a manner that causes users to believe they have seen the application before, they can remember it and can immediately begin to engage with the product.

This phenomenon is based on something called the short-term memory mode. This means that users are more likely to stay engaged with a design that is easy to understand and has clear next steps. Easy enough, right? But, what happens when you have a complex concept or a long process?

Escalating Complexity for Design Stickiness

Escalating Complexity is a fairly common term, particularly in the gaming industry. Almost every single “successful” game uses this process. In the beginning, you provide the user with a very basic set of options. Then, as the user becomes comfortable and is on the verge of becoming bored, you add additional options. When done successfully, you create a user experience that is (almost) addictive.

Angry Birds Might Hold the Solution to Complex Designs
Let’s look at Angry Birds, which may just be the most successful game in smart phone history. If you’ve played this game, you will remember that in the beginning, all you could do is shoot a basic bird at blocks. One small, red bird. One target. In fact, the first several rounds are easy – they allow you to familiarize yourself with the game.

Just about the time that you begin to completely understand the scoring, functionality and strategy of the game, it changes. It increases in complexity in a progressive fashion , and before you know it, you’ve got an arsenal of different birds, with increasingly challenging targets. The brain has to consider how these new attributes will work. This goes on and on as you progress through the game, always forcing you to learn a new functionality and always reengaging your brain.

If Angry Birds started out with all of the different bird types and target options in the first round, you would leave – it would be too much to take in.  So, when designing a website, remember to keep the functionality basic and intuitive in the beginning, combatting short-term memory issues by allowing the mind to understand the process prior to progressively shifting to more complex ideas, designs, and functionality.