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Intuitive to Whom?

August Interactive

A colleague of mine asked me recently to give him my thoughts on intuitive user interface design. What he got was an earful. Intuitive to whom?

The entire culture of information exchange was irrevocably changed with the invention of the internet. We are now a population of information consumers with a voracious appetite for instant communication gratification. As the expectation of expediency continues to increase exponentially (E3) with each generation, we are more and more aware as website users of how quickly we can find and access what we want. We express our pleasure of course by lingering on internet realty that delivers; and conversely cast our votes of displeasure by immediately leaving a website that doesn’t deliver within the first few seconds. And don’t think no one’s watching. With millions of these votes being cast every second, it’s no wonder user interface developers are infatuated with terms like ‘user intuition’.

If an interface is not intuitive, who would use it? Would you reach for a doorknob placed near the floorboard; or expect the red tube on the table to contain applesauce? Didn’t think so. But what’s intuitive depends largely on what you’re used to. Seriously, talk to a Masai nomad about a doorknob – or ketchup for that matter – and see what you get. And good luck explaining applesauce. (Cinnamon anyone?) Clearly intuition is dependent on what comes NATURALLY to a user – no matter what the user is using. So why would the web be any different? It’s not. Virtual though it may be, it’s still an environment that a PERSON needs to feel comfortable in in order to enjoy.

Bottom line is this…if you wouldn’t invite your 6 year old niece or your 80 year old grandmother to a rage (did I just date myself?) then don’t expect that every website will appeal to every user. Know your audience, understand what makes them comfortable; and most importantly try to define what ‘intuitive’ means specifically in regards to sorting, finding, moving, viewing, reading and generally experienc”ing” anything in their generation. When all else fails…put the logo on the left, give ‘em some tabs and make sure you include an RSS feed.

12 May

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