Recognition vs Recall

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What is Recognition vs Recall?

Recognition and recall are two terms used in UX design to describe how users retrieve information. Recognition is the ability to recognize something you have seen before, while recall is the ability to remember something without being prompted. In other words, recognition is less cognitive effort.

"Recognition rather than recall" is the sixth heuristic guideline established by Jakob Nielsen in his General Principles for Interaction Design. It promotes the design of interfaces with items people can quickly identify instead of recalling them from scratch. 

"Minimize the user's memory load by making visible objects, actions, and options. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for using the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate."

— Jakob Nielsen


Minimize the Need for Recall in UX Design

Recall requires more effort and can be more prone to errors. When users rely on their memory to find what they are looking for, they are more likely to become frustrated and abandon the task altogether.

There are several strategies that UX designers can use to minimize the need for recall in interfaces:

  • Use familiar icons and labels: One effective strategy is to use standard icons and labels that users can quickly recognize. For example, a magnifying glass icon for search or a home icon for the homepage can help users find what they are looking for more easily.

  • Provide visual cues: Visual cues such as color, contrast, and typography can help guide users to important information. Use different colors or font sizes for headings, subheadings, and body text to help users scan content more easily.

  • Follow common patterns: Design interfaces that follow common patterns to reduce the need for recall. For example, users expect to find a logo in the top-left corner of a website. 

  • Group related information together: This can help users find what they are looking for without the need to remember where it is located. For example, grouping all account settings under one tab or menu item can make navigation easier for users. 

Examples of Good Interface Design That Minimize the Need for Recall

Several interfaces follow the "recognition rather than recall" principle and provide a seamless user experience. Here are some examples:

Google Maps

© Google Maps Website, Fair Use

The Google Maps interface is easy to navigate, with a prominent search bar at the top. Visual cues like colors and icons help users identify points of interest.

Amazon

© Amazon Website, Fair Use

Amazon's interface simplifies online shopping. It also includes a prominent search bar but provides numerous product suggestions based on items being viewed. This approach addresses the “I don’t know what to call it, but I’ll know it when I see it” problem often faced by customers.

Spotify

© Spotify Website, Fair Use

Spotify's music streaming provides personalized recommendations based on listening history to help users discover new music without remembering specific artists or genres.

Learn More About Recognition vs. Recall

Take our course on Perception and Memory in HCI and UX.

Explore the importance of recognition and recall in UX design.

Read this article about the advantages of minimizing the need for recall.

Literature on Recognition vs Recall

Here’s the entire UX literature on Recognition vs Recall by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Recognition vs Recall

Take a deep dive into Recognition vs Recall with our course Perception and Memory in HCI and UX .

How does all of this fit with interaction design and user experience? The simple answer is that most of our understanding of human experience comes from our own experiences and just being ourselves. That might extend to people like us, but it gives us no real grasp of the whole range of human experience and abilities. By considering more closely how humans perceive and interact with our world, we can gain real insights into what designs will work for a broader audience: those younger or older than us, more or less capable, more or less skilled and so on.

“You can design for all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot design for all the people all the time.“
– William Hudson (with apologies to Abraham Lincoln)

While “design for all of the people all of the time” is an impossible goal, understanding how the human machine operates is essential to getting ever closer. And of course, building solutions for people with a wide range of abilities, including those with accessibility issues, involves knowing how and why some human faculties fail. As our course tutor, Professor Alan Dix, points out, this is not only a moral duty but, in most countries, also a legal obligation.

Portfolio Project

In the “Build Your Portfolio: Perception and Memory Project”, you’ll find a series of practical exercises that will give you first-hand experience in applying what we’ll cover. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you’ll create a series of case studies for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.

This in-depth, video-based course is created with the amazing Alan Dix, the co-author of the internationally best-selling textbook Human-Computer Interaction and a superstar in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. Alan is currently a professor and Director of the Computational Foundry at Swansea University.

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