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Debunking Miller’s Magic 7 in Web Design

Posted By Persuasion Architects On November 1, 2004 @ 12:34 pm In Online Persuasion | 2 Comments

Miller's Magic 7Bottom Line: Miller’s Magic 7 has NOTHING to do with building a persuasive website. Don’t let your website design decisions be bound by outdated science.

Miller’s Magic 7 has been bandied about in web design circles for years, and many site designs have been conceived under the premise of George Miller’s 1956 article [1] about the ability of humans to retain in a total of 7 plus or minus 2 items in working memory.

In his most recent ClickZ article Bryan Eisenberg [2]lays out the case warning against using Miller’s Magic 7 as a guiding design principle.

Debunking Miller’s Magic 7

George A. Miller penned a research paper in 1956, “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information.” It was groundbreaking in its time. In it, Miller hypothesized the human working memory can hold up to seven bits of information, plus or minus two, at once. Often referred to as “Miller’s Magic 7,” that theory is the basis of many Web page design decisions. Below, some modern day extrapolations and design conclusions rooted in Miller’s research:
• Give users only seven links (choices) in the active window.

• Give users only seven items on the menu bar.

• Give users only seven tabs at the top of a Web site page.

• Give users only seven items in a pull-down menu.

• Give users only seven items on a bulleted list.

Many advances have been made in understanding human memory since 1956. Why does Miller’s Magic 7 survive in light of current science [3]? We can’t concede that maximizing this informational processing “capacity” is necessary on a Web site.

I want to offer a more current and commonsensical approach to these design element “conclusions.” No designer should be bound by a meaningless number rooted in dusty science.

Read the rest of the Bryan’s article aboutMiller’s Magic 7 and Web Design [4].


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URL to article: http://www.grokdotcom.com/2004/11/01/debunking-millers-magic-7-in-web-design/

URLs in this post:

[1] George Miller’s 1956 article: http://www.well.com/user/smalin/miller.html

[2] Bryan Eisenberg : http://www.futurenowinc.com/bios.htm#Bryan

[3] n light of current science: http://www.keller.com/articles/magic7.html

[4] Miller’s Magic 7 and Web Design: http://www.clickz.com/experts/crm/traffic/article.php/3427631

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