There’s That Word Again. Intuitive.

There’s that word again!

Working on an old, sprawling piece of software, written by hundreds of engineers over a dozen years, I’m regularly asked to make a particular feature more intuitive. Setting aside the UX-as-lipstick mindset this supposes, it inevitably reminds me–of all things–The Princess Bride:

You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.

Inigo Montoya

That’s probably not fair. My stakeholders really do want an interface so seamless and easy to use that it’s intuitive. The problem? It’s just not possible.

Intuition–An immediate cognition of an object not inferred or determined by a previous cognition of the same object.

As interface designers we use all manner of tools to make the interface easier to grasp–affordances makes items look clickable and design patterns reuse common components, relying on user’s preconceived notions.

Our techniques lower the learning curve for a new user, but they never eliminate it. Intuition requires immediate understanding with no prior knowledge.

The very idea of an intuitive interface assumes some sort of universal truth, that there is one true way to accomplish a given task. This ignores context, the differences in user need and strikes at the core of user experience.

What do you think? Am I being too pedantic? Or, should we wipe the word from the lips of friends and foes alike?

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