Memoria & Usability: Visualization in the Absence of Artifacts

As its name suggests, ‘memoria’ concerns human memory. The ancient Greeks canonized the art of rhetoric into five essential categories, of which memoria was one (the others were  inventio, dispositio, elocutio, and pronuntiatio).

Memora: The Mediation MotherloadWhile scholars of rhetoric have given less attention to memoria than to the other four components of the rhetorical cannon (according to Wikipedia), the ability to memorize speeches was (and sometimes still is) considered an essential skill required to fully engage in the art of oratory. They did this by developing mnemonic devices and by creating visual maps of the ‘territory’ of their speeches that helped them visualize, and thus remember, the constituent parts of their argument and the relationship of those parts to one another.

Last night while I was creating my third food and beverage order since taking over the break room back in September,  I realized that I was inadvertently engaging in a sort of visual memory exercise that I had not done during my first two orders. I didn’t have access to my product database because I’m temporarily using a low-performance laptop pc that IT is letting me use until the fan in my pc is repaired. So, knowing that I needed to get an order prepared from home this weekend without having access to my inventory, I forced myself to improvise.

My mind turned immediately to the visual, physical structure of the break room as I attempted to “see” the shelves of the beverage cooler and the dry good rack. I figured if I could walk through my  memory of those spaces, I’d get a good sense of what I needed to order. Although my visual memory of the product shelves in the Food For Thought break room was incomplete (and probably inaccurate in some respects), I was able to generate an order based on my visual memory. Being able to visualize the “holes” where I had stock-outs (or near stock-outs) was just as important (maybe more so) as seeing the actual product, because those holes represented product that was most popular, and which needed replenishing most urgently.

Reflecting on the whole process, it became evident to me that Catapult’s new web-based version (to which the break room should be upgraded early this week – like, today!) has the ability to store images in the item record. This, combined with its browser-based environment, will be extremely helpful in terms of creating new ways (and perspectives) for visualizing the store environment. After, the data held in Catapult is essential a sort of digital memoria that users can leverage to augment their own memories, and the business decisions they make based on how those memories align with their culture and values.


About burtaycock

Father of 2 great boys, interaction designer, doodler, student of life.
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