Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Easy, Intuitive and Metaphor, and other meaningless words

Defining words we use in design ...

"What is easy? I find many things easy; making tea, speaking English, driving. I also find many things hard; speaking Spanish, understanding modern art (which I privately suspect is because there isn’t much to understand) and keeping my desk tidy. Is this because these things are inherently easy or hard? Or is more about me and my specific abilities, or lack of them? After all, speaking Spanish can’t be that hard, almost 400 million people around the world seem to manage it effortlessly, (just as I do speaking my native language, English).

Rather than describing something as being easy or hard it would be more accurate to describe it as being easy for me, or hard for me (or you). Without that context of “who” the question of ease or difficulty is a meaningless one.

Many tasks, that were once hard, can become easy. Learning to ride a bicycle as a child is precarious, often involving falling off, scuffing knees, and occasional tears. But as experienced cyclists riding a bike is easy. The process of transition from hard to easy is one of learning. All the time we spend in education is aimed at turning the hard into the easy. Not by changing the tasks at all – but instead by changing us.

With physical and kinesthetic tasks such as riding a bike, driving a car, even walking, the form of learning involves repeated practise. It is well understood that there is no way of avoiding this learning process if you are to become proficient. But in the world of software design we are looking for the quick answer. Intuitiveness.
Intuition

Intuition is the ability to look at a situation, and to weigh it up in a single leap. It often appears to be an effortless process, because it’s extremely rapid and doesn’t require conscious thought. In fact conscious thought can often derail intuition and make it less reliable.

It’s highly likely that intuition is a more basic ability than conscious thought, and probably one we share with many other animals. Cows will often stay close together if a storm is on the way. How do they know? I’d imagine if we spent all our lives standing out in a field we’d pay more attention to the weather too, and we’d have their insight. In fact those who do work outdoors often do have a keen weather sense. They’ve seen many storms coming before.

And that’s the point, ultimately intuition comes down to experience. Police officers often say they can tell if someone is up to no good. And they’re often right. But most people can’t do this. Police officers can because they have greater experience of criminal behaviour. Doctors can diagnose patients often by asking the most obscure questions – again, based on their deep experience.

Of course, intuition isn’t always right. Sometimes we encounter a situation that only mimics something we’ve seen before, and in those cases our intuition may be telling us something quite inaccurate. But those failures all contribute to our experience making our intuition more accurate for next time.

Naïve designers often talk of making things intuitive. What they really mean is intuitable – able to be understood through intuition. A thing can’t be intuitive unless it happens to one of those rather rare and special things that contain a brain – like you, me or my dog. To be intuitable a thing must give clues as to how we should interact with it. Those clues need to help us connect it to our previous experience of similar things."    (Continued via uiGarden.net)    [Usability Resources]

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