Yahoo! Design Week: What makes design seem intuitive?

by July 27, 2007

The always entertaining & insightful, Jared Spool- founder & principal of User Interface Engineering- spoke at Yahoo! Design Week about what makes designs intuitive? Some of my notes from his talk:

  • A design itself doesn’t intuit anything. People intuit what is required of them from a design. Individual users may perceive something as intuitive if they can interact with it right away with no learning curve.
  • Designs are perceived as not intuitive when they take too much time to figure out. This often causes people to become frustrated.
  • Things that are innate come from an understanding you are born with. Intuitive is something you learn. For example, once you learn how one scrollbar works, you expect the same elsewhere.
  • As soon as one element of design is unintuitive, the rest falls apart with it.
  • Personal perspective: what people currently know & their previous experience. Intuitive designs are not purely based on previous understanding but also on personal interpretation.
  • Designs seem intuitive to designers because they know how they work because of their involvement.
  • Intuitive Design is evolutionary. It’s part of a path we go through when designing things. First, products and services tend to focus on technology, then we add features that ultimately overwhelm our users. As a result, we have to focus on intuitiveness to help people manage all the features we’ve added.
  • There is a knowledge continuum. People with all the knowledge about a product or service are on one end of the continuum (typically product developers). On the other and of the continuum are people with no knowledge (essentially novice users).
  • There are two points of interest on this knowledge continuum. Current knowledge is what people already know –what they bring to a product or service. Target knowledge is the information they need to complete a task.
  • The “gap” between current knowledge and target knowledge is where design happens.
  • Design solutions can either educate people by moving current knowledge toward target knowledge or they can move target knowledge lower.
  • A design is intuitive when current knowledge & target knowledge are at the same point. This point, a user already knows what to do.
  • A design is intuitive when the knowledge gap is really small. In other words, it’s easy for people to bridge from current knowledge to target knowledge. In these cases, people don’t realize they are being trained.
  • Field studies are useful for identifying current knowledge.
  • Usability studies are useful for identifying target knowledge & the knowledge gap
  • Wizards try to eliminate target knowledge mechanically.
  • Intuitive is personal to each user. It is based on current knowledge & required target knowledge
  • Intuitive designs minimize the gap. In order to minimize the gap, you have to know where it is.
  • Just because something seems intuitive to you, may not be for others- study your users.