13 Jun 2006
Your intuition is based on your experiences. Just because your new UI is intuitive to you, that doesn’t mean it’s intuitive to your users. They have different experiences and therefore different intuitions. Dan Russell points out:
Turns out you can’t quit with just the translation of intuition into an interface. That’s the point of user testing – you’ve got to watch your pride and joy actually be used by real people in real situations. It’s not enough to have a brilliant, intuitive idea that you think will work. (After all, it’s intuitive, isn’t it?) You really have to watch someone else trying to solve a problem with the child of your intuition.
Watching someone else use your product is an eye-opening experience. They take 10 steps to do what you could have done in two. It can be maddening. You want to scream at them, make them understand. What seems so obvious to you doesn’t even occur to them.
If you’ve been working in the software field for any length of time, you’ve grown accustomed to the look and feel of tools that wear their development history on their sleeves. A command line might feel natural to you, but there’s no positive transfer for anyone who hasn’t already spent thousands of hours working with one. The same thing is true of many of our prized productivity tools—even knowing where to look in a busy GUI is a skill that comes only with a lot of experience in the trenches. There’s nothing natural about a GUI
I talked about this when explaining why I wasn’t pushing the then-nascent Firefox to everyone I met:
Most Web users don’t know what a browser is. That blue E they click on the desktop isn’t a browser, it’s “The Internet.” Or maybe it’s “Yahoo” if that’s what their home page is set to.
You’d be shocked how many people don’t understand what a URL is and what the address bar is for. When they need to go to a site, they close the browser, re-open it so they get the MSN or Yahoo home page, and enter the URL into the search box.
The article struck a nerve as it was reposted dozens of places. Lots of people, feeling I’d insulted the greatness of open source and the coming messiah against the evil Microsoft, attacked me in my comments and sent snide emails. Computer users aren’t stupid, they said. Anyone can understand this stuff. 251 comments and nearly two years later, they’re still going.
I updated the post shortly after writing it to respond to these people.
When you are dealing with understanding the requirements of a user, need to be very careful not to make assumptions about them. The easiest and most common assumption is that the user is in some ways similar to you or to other people you know. That’s because it’s a lot easier to identify with people with whom you have something in common. That transference of knowledge is what many of the commenters below are doing. Because of their advanced level of knowledge and the level of their friends and colleagues it is difficult for them understand and believe that there is such an enormous gap between them and the average user.
If an interface is "intuitive" it means that you’re able to understand it without explicit learning. An intuitive UI on a cell phone is similar to a landline phone. And what’s intuitive to one generation isn’t often intuitive to another. Adults that borrow my Blackberry to make a call often have trouble figuring out how to dial. But kids that are more used to cluttered interfaces pick up the phone and have no problems. Intuitiveness is a learned quality.
Again from Dan Russell...
In psychological terms, the interface has great “positive transfer” from other skills. That is, if you can drive a Toyota, you can drive a BWM (sic) – that’s a great positive transfer experience.
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