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1. Serial Position Effect

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Serial Position Effect


Have you ever  thought  about  the maximum number of  items  a  drop-down list  or  a  menu  in  a  GUI can  have?  Can it be as large as 20?  What  about  the  sequence of items  in such  lists  or  menus? Is  there  any  logic for sequencing menu-items within  a  list?  Does it affect the interaction time?  The  design  of menus or  lists in  a  GUI  is governed  by principle of  serial position effect.



The term serial position effect  was coined by Hermann Ebbinghaus which refers to the finding that recall accuracy of  an  item  from a list varies as a function of  its position within  the list. People tend to recall items  at  the end  of  list more  reliably (the recency effect). Also the first few items are recalled more frequently than the middle items (the primacy effect).


Refer to the  list below  and  try  to  remember  the  items  in  the list.



Amul  Butter


Pen  Pencil


Diary Milk


Orange  Juice


Key  Board


Drum Sticks


Paper Cup


It  will  be  observed  that  you  will  more reliably recall  items in position 1, 2,6 and 7  than those in the position 3,4 and 5.




We  can  make  use  of  the  recency  and  primacy  effect   in  sequencing items  in  a  menu  of  a  GUI  or  a  control  panel of a product's interface.  The more important or more frequently  used  items or  controls  should be placed in the beginning or end of the list. Items less frequently used should be placed in the middle of the list. A list of written words may be more easy to recall than a set of colors or symbols.


In case of a list using colors the serial position effect may not be immediately seen. Here recall depends on various properties of color such as brightness, hue and saturation too. Thus a brighter color regardless of its position in the list is more likely to be recalled. This can be used to over-rule the serial position effect whenever the context demands. Thus color can be used as a design element to aid recall.


For example, while designing a tool bar, an important command  which cannot  be accommodated  at  the starting or ending of a list, could be placed in middle part with a slightly brighter color, so that it still receives the attention of the user and the user tends to remember it easily and for a longer time.




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