Thursday, September 21, 2006


What does it mean for something to be "intuitive?"

It must have something to do with our intuition. Ok... so what's "intuition?" I like to define it as previous knowledge (loosely defined), either instinctive or gained through learning. Thus, something that is intuitive is something that takes advantage of previous knowledge. A key point here is that intuitiveness is subjective.

If you have played poker games in the past, the rules of a new poker game will be intuitive if they rely on knowledge gained from other poker games. If you have used Microsoft products in the past, new Microsoft products will be intuitive as long as they are designed like the old ones. If you have driven a car in the past, driving a new car should be easy. (Driving may not be very intuitive at first since we don't otherwise press levers to change velocity and turn a wheel to change directions... except in video games.) In all of these cases standards are important since they ensure that previous knowledge is exploited.

This thought process started a year and a half ago in a class assignment for "Interaction Methods for Emerging Technologies." The assignment was to explain why direct manipulation devices are usually preferred by users. (Direct manipulation devices are those in which the user's actions directly affect the end object, as opposed to devices that add one or more levels of indirect manipulation. For example, a computer mouse has one level of indirect manipulation since it indirectly controls the pointer on the screen.) This was my answer:
Why are direct-manipulation interfaces preferred?

I will use the phrase "knowledge transfer" to refer to the amount of previous knowledge that can be applied to a new domain. Direct-manipulation exploits a lot of knowledge transfer because user's manipulate the device in a similar way to how they manipulate everyday objects. Direct-manipulation usually requires little learning, thus less effort and/or frustration when using a new device.

Additionally, I would say that intuitiveness in any domain is directly proportional to the amount of knowledge transfer being used, maybe going so far as to say intuitiveness is equivalent to the utilization of knowledge transfer. So things can be intuitive to some people and not others depending on their experience. Direct-manipulation is more intuitive to almost everyone because almost everyone has had a lot of experience manipulating everyday objects. A new Microsoft product, on the other hand, would be intuitive for people experienced with Microsoft products because of the knowledge transfer involved, but not for others who aren't used to them (hence the effectiveness of interface standardization).

Monday, February 28, 2005

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