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Performance Load “Chunking” Information & Psychology Effect in Visual Design (Item 1 / Q2&3 Summary)

November 2, 2012 Leave a comment

(Q2) – “What is Chunking?”

The authors Lidwell, Holden & Butler (2003) discuss the performance load method for reducing cognitive load as ‘chunking‘.

Figure 1: George A. Miller (Source: The New York Times Company)

Chambers (2012) give the definition of ‘chunking’ as “a strategy used to improve memory performance. It helps you present information in a way that makes it easy for your audience to understand and remember.” So essentially, the way chunking works is to make things easier for your memory to process, this is delivered through visual representations and communication. Chunking works best when separating key elements of important information and placing such information into key units. Chambers (2012) gives an example of chunking through George A. Miller’s use of chunking in his journal article ‘The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two’. 

He explains “Miller studied the capabilities of our short term memory. For example, he researched how many numbers we can reliably remember a few minutes after we’ve been told them only once.” The way chunking is connected with performance load is that the use of chunking will decrease the cognitive load, thus making it easier for the person to accomplish their task/goal with minimal chance of error. Lidwell, Holden & Butler (2003) identify chunking in their article “General strategies for reducing cognitive load […] chunking information.” Final example of chunking is within Saariluoma & Sajaniemi’s (1989) journal article ‘International Journal of Man-Machine Studies‘. In their studies that they conducted, they trialed chunking in spreadsheets to see what effects it would have on the memory load (cognitive load). The results are positive, stating that chunking “…showed that a possibility to visual information chunking substantially decreases the memory load caused by spreadsheet calculation.”

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(Q3) – “Do you think a study of psychology is necessary in design?

Lidwell, Holden & Butler (2003) touch on the visual design aspect of performance load. The question asks if the psychology in visual design is ‘necessary’, and my answer is yes. The reason why the study is necessary is because visual design plays a major key role in our cognitive load. What we ‘visually’ see and interpret may increase our cognitive load, so the study of psychology in visual design is used to better suit a lower cognitive load for the viewer. For example, Hofmann (2012) discusses the essentials of effective visual design, one of the studied aspects in the psychology of design. He is an expert in design and through his article, pitches ideas of visual design that can better improve one’s attention, like the importance of ‘hierarchy‘ in the piece, showing the most important information first, and also trying to deliver a message within the image clearly without making it ‘too’ confusing. If the image’s message is coming through as ‘confusing’ for some, the performance load, specifically cognitive, would increase.

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Chambers & Associates Pty Ltd. (2012). Software in Practice. Chunking Principles. Retrieved from http://www.chambers.com.au/glossary/chunking_principle.php

Hofmann, P. (2012). User Interface Engineering. Essentials of Effective Visual Design. Retrieved from http://www.uie.com/events/virtual_seminars/Visual_PH/

Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2003). Aesthetic-Usability Effect. In Universal Principles of Design, (pp. 148-149).

Saariluoma, S., & Sajaniemi, S. (1989). International Journal of Man-Machine Studies. Visual information chunking in spreadsheet calculations. (pp. 475-488).