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Motif and CDE 2.1 Style Guide

Reducing the User's Memory Load

The following sections provide information about how to design an interface that does not tax the user's memory.

Relying on Recognition

The user should never have to rely on memory for something an application can "remember." The following design principles address recognition:

  1. Present alternatives and let a user choose from among them.

    People are better at recognition than at recall, so provide visual alternatives. For example, provide lists of items, such as choices in a menu. The user can recognize choices in a menu without having to recall commands or their syntax.

  2. Provide reminders to help a user keep track of the task at hand.

    For example, provide visual cues, such as emphasis, gauges, or textual cues. Emphasis reminds users that they are interacting with an element. Gauges remind users that a process is under way. Textual cues tell users what to remember.

Using Real-World Metaphors

When interface elements resemble their real-world counterparts, users transfer knowledge gained in other areas to the computer environment and learn to use applications more quickly. For example, in the real world files are stored in folders and new mail is put into a mailbox; therefore, design your interface elements to resemble their real-world counterparts.

To ensure that metaphors are correctly interpreted, remember that they are evaluated by individual users. For example, an application designed for children should have metaphors that a child can relate to.

When an element represents an abstract notion that does not have a real-world counterpart, provide a representation of the element that helps the user visualize and remember relationships.

Using Progressive Disclosure

Design the interface so that the most necessary and commonly used functions are prominently featured and readily accessible. Consider hiding more sophisticated or less frequently used functions from immediate view. For example, a user should be able to find help immediately upon looking at a window, but you can place the choices for changing the presentation of data in a cascaded menu under the View menu.

Employing Visual Clarity

Using good visual design principles ensures clear visual communication and improved ergonomics. Well-designed interfaces reduce clutter and prioritize visual elements. For more information about the visual presentation of the interface, see "Visual Presentation Principles".

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