Re: What is Intuitive? (was Re: Usability)

Subject: Re: What is Intuitive? (was Re: Usability)
From: Tim Altom <taltom -at- IQUEST -dot- NET>
Date: Thu, 11 Jul 1996 11:05:00 EST

At 08:34 AM 7/11/96 MST, you wrote:
>Jared M. Spool[SMTP:jspool -at- uie -dot- com] wrote-->
>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.

>Intuitive, when used to describe computers and software, is used very
>loosely, but not entirely wrong, IMO. Intuition is a way of learning, so
>to speak. Also, whereas instinct is pretty much universal, intuition is
>more individual. Who is to judge whether something on a computer screen
>was intuitive or not to one individual? Wouldn't we need a thorough
>knowledge of that person's background to say with certainty that it
>wasn't intuition?

Let's be clear about what we're talking about. The word "intuitive" has
sprouted a secondary meaning without our realizing it.

In classic terms, "intuition" was the process whereby a belief formed in the
mind without much, or any, logical/analytical input. In many cases intuition
is indistinguishable from faith. My intuition, for example, may tell me that
one line at a bank teller's window will move faster than the others. There's
no good reason for thinking so, yet more times than not I'm right. It's a
confluence of factors that the brain just balances out without recourse to
the logical processing centers. It's what we call "gut feeling."

In our business, however, we've assigned another, related, meaning to
"intuitive." That is, a situation in which new input is made easy to relate
to old world views. It's a meaning that's close enough to the old one to
make sense, but it's not the same thing. We say a GUI layout is "intuitive"
because it's a close match with the desktop paradigm we're used to using. If
that's the case, we can slip in new concepts in desktop management while
maintaining the old paradigm. The entire result is "intuitive." If, on the
other hand, we introduce entirely new actions that have little to do with
old ways, then it's considered less "intuitive." However, we ignore the fact
that the original paradigm is, by itself, unconnected with older paradigms.
A real desktop, littered with folders, pens, and Rolodexes, has little to do
with hunting for food or gathering herbs. It's a big, big move along the
road. Putting little ink marks on parchment was once severely
"counter-intuitive." Now we use that action as both a reality and a
representation, as real paper in a file, and as a computer icon. Since we're
familiar with paper-and-ink, the paper-and-ink icon is "intuitive," while a
dirty shoe-and-mug icon wouldn't be.

When we say that something isn't intuitive, what we mean is that it's too
far away from the familiar, that it's stretching us too badly. We're willing
to take baby steps away from our world views, but not very fast, and not
very far.

So yes, to get complete "intuitiveness" we'd have to know the world views
(experiences and paradigms) of our users. Instead, we generalize. Yet we
come surprisingly close. We can assume, for example, that users of Excel
will know all about paper, text, numerals, and so forth, and we use
familiar, common symbols for those things. The problem arises when we're not
talking about nouns anymore, but verbs. Actions are far less standardized
and require a good deal more thought to make "intuitive." You can get to the
same place by taking different roads. Which road is "intuitive" depends on
what roads you know.

Tim Altom
Vice President, Simply Written, Inc.
317.899.5882 (voice) 317.899.5987 (fax)
FrameMaker support ForeHelp support

Makers of DuoFrame, giving you online help and paper
documentation from a single parent FrameMaker document.

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