ACCESSIBLE WEB: Designing for Brainpower Limitations

Concept illustration of four human brains

When a person experiences short-term memory loss, he or she can remember incidents from 10 years ago but is fuzzy on the details of things that happened 10 minutes prior.

According to User Advocate and UX expert Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., “short-term memory famously holds only about 7 chunks of information, and these fade from your brain in about 20 seconds.”

Short-term memory limitations dictate a whole range of Web design guidelines. Nielsen advises:

  • “Response times must be fast enough that users don’t forget what they’re in the middle of doing while waiting for the next page to load.
  • Change the color of visited links so that users don’t have to remember where they’ve already clicked.
  • Make it easy to compare products, highlighting the salient differences on both the initial category page and in special comparison views. If you require users to move back and forth between separate product pages to deduce differences, they’ll get confused – particularly if the pages present the information in an inconsistent format.
  • Instead of using coupon codes, encode offers in special links embedded in your email newsletters and automatically transfer the coupon to the user’s shopping cart. This has two benefits:
    • The computer carries the burden of remembering the obscure code and applying it at the correct time.
    • It eliminates the “enter coupon code” field, which scares away shoppers who don’t have coupons (and who refuse to pay full price when the checkout flow blatantly signals that other users are getting a better deal).
  • Offer help and user assistance features in the context where users need them so they don’t have to travel to a separate help section and memorize steps before returning to the problem at hand.”



WEBSITE ACCESSIBILITY TESTING & REMEDIATION SERVICES: Mary Gillen is an experienced Website Accessibility Compliance Auditor and Remediator. She can test your website to determine if it meets accessibility standards:

WCAG 2.1: 312 checkpoints covering A, AA and AAA W3 accessibility guidelines
Section 508: 15 US federal guidelines covered by 59 accessibility checkpoints

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