Why Chunking Content is Important

The word chunk usually means a piece of something larger, but a new design, when we talk about the process of chunking, we’re usually referring to breaking up content into small, distinct units of information rather than just in undifferentiated mass of atomic information items. So why is trunking important for our users as well as human beings? We find it easier to comprehend and remember information if it’s been broken down into meaningful chunks.

For example, if I asked you to memorize the string of numbers, do you think you could do it?

You might find it to be easier to remember this phone number if the string is chunked now, instead of memorizing 11 numbers, you just need to memorize four chunks. Often when we break up our Web content, we’ll do it in a similar way, using negative space to show where the chunks are separated from each other. You may have heard of the magical number seven made famous by cognitive psychologist George Miller in the 1950s. Miller found that most people can remember about seven chunks of information in their short term memory and user experience. People often misunderstand Miller’s finding, and they think that that means that people can only process seven things at any given time. So this can lead to some unnecessary design limitations. For example, deciding that a global navigation bar can’t have more than seven options. That would be totally unnecessary because we don’t intend for our users to memorize our menus because all of the options are available on the screen. So don’t focus too much on the number seven itself. For you professionals, the real take away from Miller’s research is that human short term memory is limited. So if you want your users to retain more information, pack that information into meaningful chunks.

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