Recognition vs. Recall Interface Design, Wand VMS and the User Experience


It’s a common scenario: You’re walking through the supermarket when you spot someone vaguely familiar. You know you’ve seen the person before, but what’s their name? Remembering this crucial detail can be a lot harder than just recognising that the individual is familiar.

When it comes to memory retrieval, scientists have made a distinction between two types: recognition (“I know that person!)” and recall (“His name is Dylan.”). In the case of enterprise software design, this translates to presenting a user with an interface that’s immediately recognisable and intuitive for beginners. Traditionally, VMS software has failed to do so, resulting in a sometimes-frustrating user experience.

Let’s take a deeper look at the concept of recognition versus recall, how it applies to enterprise software interface design, and how PRO Unlimited incorporates the tenets into our award-winning Wand VMS solution.

Recognition vs. Recall: A Quick Primer

Think back to your time in school. Remember how much easier it was to complete a multiple-choice quiz compared to a test consisting of questions only? You may not have known it at the time, but you were witnessing the concept of recognition versus recall in action.

In this context, “recognition” refers to the ability to recognize an event or piece of information as being familiar, while “recall” designates the retrieval of related details from memory. Recognition (e.g. the multiple-choice test) typically involves more cues to help with memory retrieval than recall (question only).

Here’s another example of how two similar questions involve the two forms of memory retrieval:

    Question 1: “Who wrote Harry Potter?”: Answering involves “recall” since you must retrieve the correct answer from your memory
  • Question 2: “Did J.K. Rowling write Harry Potter?”: To answer this query, you have more cues and merely need to recognize whether the information presented is correct. This is an example of “recognition.”

Recognition is easier than recall because it involves more cues and richer context. These cues spread activation to related information in memory, raise the answer’s activation, and make you more likely to select it.

Interface Design and Recognition

So, how does the concept of recognition versus recall apply to enterprise software design? In general, the idea is to avoid forcing users to have to recall the information necessary to progress tasks. Instead, streamlined, user-friendly software design should intuitively guide users to actions by offering visual cues they can recognize. Interfaces that promote recognition give users extra help in remembering information, be it about tasks and items that they’ve seen before or interface functionality. Put simply, the interface shows you the available commands, and you recognize the one you want. Easy and seamless.

The Wand VMS Approach

Wand offers a “consumerised” approach to VMS software, featuring a clean, intuitive and actionable interface that’s unparalleled in our industry. As part of this design methodology, PRO’s Silicon Valley-based development team focused on the concept of “recognition versus recall” when creating Wand. The goal is always to present an interface that’s instantly accessible for new clients and frictionless for advanced users.

PRO carries this emphasis on recognition versus recall throughout Wand. The interface acts as a helpful concierge to users, rather than making them recall the next step in a process. Likewise, when creating a new request managers can use previously existing job titles and descriptions, available via drop-down options, instead of having to remember them. Similarly, workers can copy previous time cards instead of having to recall and re-enter the hours worked in a recent week. This ease of use frees up users’ brainpower and time to focus on other tasks.

If you or a member of your team would benefit from a further discussion on how PRO is helping companies implement winning contingent workforce management programmes globally, please contact a PRO representative at +44 (0)203 633 3912 or email at