What is Intuitive? (was Re: Usability)

Subject: What is Intuitive? (was Re: Usability)
From: "Jared M. Spool" <jspool -at- UIE -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 11 Jul 1996 08:31:17 -0500

On 6 Jul 96, Glanbrok, Conqueror of Blunts wrote:

> IMHO, M.J. Wing was right about the meaning of "intuitive" -- it's
> intuitive if you can pick it up easily.

I think we need to put an end to this debate.

There is nothing about computers that are intuitive. The only things
for humans that are intuitive have to do with eating, sleeping,
elimination and reproduction. (Actually, there are those that argue
that reproduction is a learned skill.)

Using computers and software is a learned skill. The more skills you
learn, the easier future skills are to learn. For instance, it is
much easier to read a book if you have learned how to read first. If
you wish to read a book in Italian, it will be much easier to read it
if you learn Italian first. If you've read 1,000 books in Italian,
the 1,001st might seem intuitive, but it wasn't.

User interfaces communicate. They provide clues that are essential
to the operation. When users talk about interfaces not being
intuitive, in our research, they are always refering to clues being
missing. You add the tools, the interfaces become more intuitive.
But you haven't changed the essence of the interface, you've only
changed the clues.

Software doesn't need an user interface. For instance, UNIX doesn't
have one. You couldn't sit a mortal being in front of a UNIX system
and expect them to "intuit" anything. They couldn't accomplish a
thing. (In the olden days, they could, at least, crash the system.
But you can't even do that reliably anymore.)

However, millions of people use UNIX every day. Some of them will
even attest that it is intuitive. But it wasn't intuitive. How did
they know what to type? They learned it, plain and simple. "man"
pages, UNIX For Dummies, other users, Unix-Haters mailing list -- all
resources for learning to use it.

There is nothing intuitive about computer interfaces -- ever.

I've recently seen a signature on an email message:
"It's intuitive once you learn it."

That pretty much sums up my opinions on "intuitive" interfaces.


Jared M. Spool User Interface Engineering
jspool -at- uie -dot- com 800 Turnpike Street, Suite 101
(508) 975-4343 North Andover, MA 01845
fax: (508) 975-5353 USA

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