The last couple of articles I posted on interaction design (Rounded Corners & Open Space) talk about two techniques of clustering information so that users can digest them. Both techniques (and numerous others) are used, whether consciously or not, by designers.
The rationale behind such mechanisms is based upon the notion of “chunking.” Chunking is not a formal term and definitions vary, but this one works:
Chunking, or recoding, is grouping separate bits of information into meaningful units (chunks) that are easier to digest and remember.
The idea of chunking was articulated in a landmark article by the pyschologist George A. Miller entitled The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information. In the article, Miller argues that our working memory (i.e. our immediate sensory intake) can’t handle much more than six or seven discrete bits of information. Beyond that, it’s just a big blog. Here’s a simple exercise that illustrates the concept.