People are better at recognizing things they have previously experienced than they are at recalling those things from memory.
Instead of asking users to recall data from their memory, present a list of items which each represent a certain category of data. By merely clicking on data users recall, much more and a broader pool of data is collected in a way that is seen as a fun challenge for the user.
If you’re interested in asking people to list things from memory, consider complementing – or replacing – empty form fields with defined, intelligent, or random choices that people can click on – or rate.
A classic move from using recall memory to recognition memory in user interface design was when modern GUIs (Graphical User Interfaces) slowly began replacing the older command-line interfaces known from DOS or the UNIX prompt. The effort associated with learning commands in the command-line interface made computers difficult to use. By presenting commands in menus in modern GUIs, the recalling commands from memory became obsolete and simplified the ease of use of computers.
Minimize the need to recall information from memory whenever possible. Use easily accessible menus, multiple choice options, auto-complete suggestions, or visual imagery to aid decisions.
Recognition is triggered by context. Weâ€™re quite good at it. With the radio on, we can sing the lyrics to thousands of songs.
Recall works without context. At this, weâ€™re terribly bad. With the radio off, our memories inevitably fade to black.
This imbalance is shared across our senses, and itâ€™s a huge factor in design3.
It’s easier to click and choose from a variety of options than to write out those same things from memory. Recognition tasks provide memory cues that facilitate searching through memory why it is easier to recognize things than recall them from memory. It’s easier to provide a correct answer for a multiple-choice question than it is for a fill-in-the-blank question as the multiple-choice questions provide a list of possible answers1. Open-ended short answer questions provide no such memory cues, why the range of possibilities is much greater.
Recognition memory is much easier to access than recall memory. While recognition memory is obtained through exposure, recall memory is obtained through learning. Recognition does not necessarily involve memory about origin, context, or relevance while recall usually involves some combination of of memorization, practice and application. Furthermore recognition memory is retained for longer periods of time than recall memory – it is harder to recall the name of an acquaintance than it is to recognize it when heard1.
1 Universal Principles of Design, William Lidwell et. al., Rockport Publishers, 2003