When someone refers to an ‘intuitive interface’ they really mean a program that they intuit easily. Computer programs can’t intuit anything. The widespread use of the term reflects an appropriately anthropocentric view of the technology that we did, after all, design and build in the first place. So now we’ve thrown some grist into the pedants’ mill, let’s concede that ‘intuitive interface’ is the commonly understood expression. But what does it refer to, exactly? How can we measure which interfaces feel intuitive to users and which don’t?
The key questions to ask of the people using your interface are:
- What do they already know?
- What do they need to know?
Imagine someone comes to use your interface for the very first time. If what they already know is all they need to know – job done, your interface is intuitive. If a user doesn’t know all they need to know, but the design helps them without them being aware of receiving any guidance – congratulations, you too have an intuitive interface.
How to Do It
Developing your understanding of what users generally find most intuitive takes a methodical approach to testing. The easier an interface is to use, the more people will use it.
A good example of a popular intuitive interface is Ez Texting’s SMS marketing service. Ez operates on the notion that a mobile marketing campaign should not be difficult. The clue’s in the name, kids. Ez Texting’s software is incredibly simple to use, and avoids any industry jargon or technical language. The choices available will be familiar to anyone who’s ever had an email account; choices like ‘send text message’ and ‘scheduled and sent texts’.
What Ez Texting have done right is foster a sense of knowing what you need to do as soon as you see the screen. Want to add a new group? Guess what – click the link that says ‘add a new group.’ That’s intuition. It works wonders in terms of keeping people on your site.
How Not to Do It
There are plenty of examples online of decidedly unintuitive interfaces. You’ve probably used one – or at least started to use one before giving up. For an all-time classic intuition fail, we must turn to one of the oldest electronic communication tools there is: the hotel phone.
I’m sure you’ve been there. Sitting in a hotel room, you go to make an outside call and hit ‘9’. Only this hotel felt that ‘5’ would be a much better choice. More original, perhaps, but not the intuitive choice.
The most intuitive interfaces favor familiarity over originality. Just because you have discovered an impeccable logic in doing things in a new way doesn’t mean your users will prefer it. Intuition doesn’t work that way. Improve your understanding of what the majority of people prefer and you are close to creating a truly intuitive interface.