The term ‘chunking’ was first mentioned by psychologist G.A.Miller in 1956, when he stated that a huge amount of information was not the absolute constituent in human memory, but rather smaller units of information called chunks (Jones, 1989, p. 87). Chunking can be applied in design and visual communication, text or images which when properly organised enhance the usability and readability of systems. This technique helps the user store information and cultivates memorisation when dealing with cognitive load in particular.
One of the advantages of chunking is that it aids the memory process and provides ‘a clear basis for efficient, predictable design communication’ (Curtis, 2010, p. 24). However, the chunks must be applied appropriately to a given context and be broken down into several chunks or items of information. In other words, it is recommended that informatoin should be summarised and categorised so that the user remembers the content thoroughly. G.A. Miller’s famous ‘The magical number seven, plus or minus two’ (Miller, 1956) theory concludes that the working memory can only handle five chunks of information, minus or plus two. To exceed this number would cause information overload and decrease learnability.
A great example of chunking is seen in page layout and page design. By dividing long chunks of information into separate units or paragraphs, the user finds it easier to follow and remember information. According to Markel, ‘chunking emphasises units of related information’ (2012, p. 271). Every item of information in a given chunk should be analogous and consistent with one another to avoid confusion and ensure that the user identifies the visual patterns of information.
Curtis, N. (2010). Modular web design: Creating reusable components for user experience design and documentation. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders.
Jones, M.K. (1989). Human-computer interaction: A design guide. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Educational Technology Publications.
Markel, M. (2012). Technical communication. New York, NY: Bedford-St.Martins.
Miller, G.A. (1956). The magical number seven, plus or minus two: Some limits on our capacity for processing information. Psychological Review, 63(2), 81-97.