UX London: What Makes a Design Seem Intuitive?

by Luke Wroblewski June 14, 2009

The always entertaining & insightful, Jared Spool spoke at UX London 2009 about What Makes a Design Seem Intuitive?

  • On the Avis website, people could not fill in what looks like a simple form. An asterisk was used to indicate “optional” but everyone thought it meant “required”. When do we cross the line from intuitive to un-intuitive?
  • Designs don’t “intuit” anything. People “intuit” things. Designs, therefore, cannot be intuitive. People can intuit what to do with a design.
  • When a design is not intuitive, people look at it and don’t know what to do. Feels like it takes time to figure out, people become frustrated.
  • It's not novelty that causes problems with intuitiveness, its not simplicity. Intuitive is personal –based on what people currently know and their previous experiences.
  • Intuitive design is evolutionary. First build the technology, then add features, then focus on experience.
  • When at the technology stage, people will accept difficult designs in order to get things done. They need the new capabilities.
  • Spectrum of knowledge about a product has a few points worth considering. Current knowledge (what the users already know), target knowledge (what people need to know), the knowledge gap is the space in between (where we need to design).
  • Use case: instant messenger designs for dealing with a secure connection. Google Talk: assumes user knows proxies and firewall settings, get sent to generic help files to hunt for information. Skype asks users to set port options but provides specific online help for assistance. Yahoo! uses inline text to explain likely choices by reducing target knowledge. AOL uses auto configure wizard to deduce proper settings to reduce target knowledge.
  • The problem with wizards is when they don’t work as people need a lot more target knowledge is needed to set things up.
  • A design is intuitive when: current knowledge is equal to target knowledge.
  • Two different kinds of knowledge. Tool knowledge: specific to the tool you are using. Domain knowledge: specific to the domain you are using.
  • Field studies: observe people using your products in their natural environment. Helps identify current knowledge.
  • Usability studies: help identify target knowledge and the gap.
  • Can use personas to capture current knowledge.
  • Design patterns can store solutions for target knowledge.
  • Reduce target knowledge down to toward current knowledge. Provide clear tools to bring current knowledge up.