I know, it seems like I’ve abandoned you, mon petit blog. I haven’t! I’ve just been waiting to write the perfect post.

Recently, Tim Minor at UX Booth published a post about memory recall as studied by psychologists, and how this could apply to websites:

The research suggests that the simple act of walking through a doorway creates a new memory episode, thereby making it harder for us to recall aspects from a previous episode (such as why we came into the room)!

In terms of user experience, this is like saying that every time a user clicks to a new page on your website, they forget whatever they’ve just seen or learned on the previous page. It’s also a sign that we have extremely short attention spans! If memory serves me (and it may not), The Design of Everyday Things talks about how good design creates “contextual memory” so that people don’t HAVE to remember everything; they only have to remember how to figure it out. Like opening a door — if the handle is designed properly, most people quickly process whether they should push or pull the handle to swing open the door in a given direction. Their brains create a memory in that particular context, even if they’ve never seen that particular door (or style of handle) before.

How I see numerical digits in my mind's eye.

The question is, how do you create contextual memory for the users of your website? Our memories originate from strong sense impressions, so logically one could argue that to build contextual memory online, you have to invigorate the user’s senses. The most obvious method is through visual stimulation — form and color — but I’d argue that the most memorable websites probably employ a combination of strong visual + tactile sensation (through moving your mouse, perhaps?). When you use your mouse to hover over a drop-down menu, you *almost* feel the sensation of it. Almost. Tactile sensation may be more connected to the field of haptic technology, but I’m sure we’ll soon be seeing applications (and devices) for it soon in the context of online user experience. One great example is the Wii (and other) game controllers, how they vibrate or rumble when you move a certain way within the game — they create a more realistic, memorable impression.

But I wanted to say something a bit more personal about visual memory. About 10 years ago, I learned that I had a particular condition called synesthesia, where I see graphemes (numbers and letters) in very particular, permanent colors in my mind’s eye, and even when I’m reading text on a page or screen. It’s hard to describe, especially because I always assumed everyone saw things the same way I did. At a recent lecture however, I met several other synesthetes with similar or varying types of sensory mixing.  The author/lecturer Maureen Seaberg discussed how researchers estimate that about 4-5% of the population has this experience, although some people’s brains combine music with color, or shapes with taste. Many of us argued vehemently about our color schemes for the letter “A” (it’s always light blue for me), and found comfort in our shared experience.

My own synesthesia has helped me create certain memories, I believe. Because my characters are always colored the same, I can more easily remember numbers, or tell when something is misspelled, or wrongly coded. I think it enables me to fix code bugs faster when I’m scanning the page, and in the past it definitely helped me find errors in my college research papers when editing. There’s also a fascination for me with poetry, and the way certain words appear on the page. I know e.e. cummings explored this quite a bit, so perhaps he also had it.

The BEST, most sensible, UX-friendly website would perhaps be one where I could PERSONALIZE my own graphemes/characters according to how I see them. That would make reading or typing or coding so much EASIER! A girl can dream, at least (sigh).

Advertisements