Intuitive Design or something else …

Tuesday, September 3rd, 02013 at 13:31 UTC

Intuitive design seems to be everywhere. With touch devices every UI/UX pattern is about being intuitive; swipe for this, shake for that, “bumping” does something else, and pinch-to-zoom.

We’re certainly a big fans of affordances, buttons should look pressable and pressable things should act like buttons, but pinch-to-zoom and all these other intuitive design paradigms are dangerous mantras to design and live by.

For a few recent projects we’ve stopped using the whole ‘intuitive’ buzz word. Sure, we still make buttons look like buttons and avoid aping the most recent flat design fad, but we’ve stopped thinking there is a direct connection between making it “more intuitive” and increasing the readers understanding. Just because¬†it is intuitive doesn’t mean the reader will understand how it works.

Any successful product has a wide range of types of customers. Some will be very tech savvy, others will be n00bs. “Intuitive” is relative across expertise and culture. All this reminds me of all the instances where people can’t figure out how a simple appliance works and they blame themselves for being stupid. No one should ever blame themself, it isn’t your fault if you can’t understand the machine, the designer didn’t do their job correctly in explaining how it works. Then comes the fallacy – it wasn’t intuitive enough.

We are putting an end to intuitive design in our projects and instead we are focusing on Explicit Design.

Rather than try to be intuitive and put a small ‘X’ in the corner so people get the feeling this modal dialog is closable, we are explicit and use “close” or “close window”. Rather than a backward curling arrow or the cryptic “cntr-Z” we are writing “Undo” or even “Undo <action>”. We want to be explicit about both what the button or link is for and what it will do when you press it.

OSX dialog boxes always say “<action to preform>” or “Cancel” for instance “Send” or “Cancel”. Windows tended to have “OK” and “Cancel”. Which can lead to interesting double-negatives being hard to interpret. “Connecting to the printer has failed. No more connection attempts. OK or Cancel”. How about “Reconnect” or “Cancel”?

What’s wrong with being explicit? Tell the read what will happen when you press each button, don’t make them guess.

Over 15 years ago we knew Mystery Meat Navigation was a bad idea. Not explicitly telling readers what an icon meant or did was a common faux paus we laughed at, yet today we call these mistakes ‘not intuitive enough’.

Next time you have a UI/UX problem, stop and think to yourself, I could find some twisted logic and justify some strange ‘intuitive’ way of doing things or I could be explicit and tell the read ¬†how to achieve the action using words – then decide which is best for your audience.