Hot and happening: the intuitive interface!
Have you ever felt stuck in one of your electronic devices, because you could not find the right buttons? To be able to use your devices to the fullest, an understanding of the interface is essential. Interfacess come in many different forms. From the endless and hard to understand interfaces in old televisions to the easy and explanation free train ticket machines. This last menu is a so called intuitive interface. A direct link to the very successful "it just works" concept from Apple can be made.
First of all, the term “intuitive interface” needs some explaining, because interfaces cannot be intuitive, since programs do not have intuition. It is the user that can intuit the interface easily. For the rest of this blog the term intuitive interface will be used for an interface that a user can understand easily. The question now arises, when can one call an interface intuitive and which requirements have to be met?
Click the more button to continue reading on my university blog. My grade is dependent on the amount of hits and the time you stay on the page
Of course the full blog will be posted here, when the grades are given! Remember that the audience for this blog is not the average Tweakers, so some parts may seem too easy...
If there's more then your interface is failing If that's all then it ain't worth the read. Sorry. It hasn't got any in-depth information, no explanations of any of the examples and WHY exactly they're good/better than others etc. and for the rest it's just a bunch of open doors...
[Comment edited on Tuesday 1 March 2011 19:31]
To interface is to bring into an interface. An interface is a boundary/interaction between two entities. An intuitive interface is limited: Generally humans are behaving intuitively. Whenever such behaviour tends to result in better-than-average interaction, it's called more intuitive. So an intuitive interface semantically means it's something a human can interact with intuitively....because interfaces cannot be intuitive...
So in that regard 'intuitive' doesn't describe the actual interface, but merely the perceived value considering human interaction with the interfaced object. Thus, an intuitive interface is entirely a correct semantic approach as to describing an intuitive interface.
It's similar to an object being green. It's merely our perception of certain electromagnetic wavelengths being absorbed, while others being reflected. Your statement the object not being able to be green is considered to be false.
Therefore an interface *can* be considered intuitive, because it's preceived to be so. Else an object cannot be green. Just be 'found' green
Also: An interface that is (hypothetically) 100% intuitive, actually ceases to be a boundary at all. Hence interaction isn't the right word in that case: It's more a manipulation towards the successive goal.
Another big flaw in your quoted article and your subsequent blog is the problem of definition. Imagine turning on your computer screen. It's probably either automagic or it needs a single push of a button. A small button on the side of the screen might not be found immediately and is thus considered less intuitive. We can complicate things by providing visual, tactile and audible ways of exactly showing how the screen is turned on and changing even the place/size of the button to accomodate for more intuitive powering the screen. The process takes around 5 mins following instructions and the power button is *always* very visible in the middle of the screen. So I'd define an intuitive interface that not only has a small knowledge gap, but also transparantly gets the user to acquire the desired goal/action.
The example about the external hotel telephone line is both good as it fits the given view and bad since it requires additional knowledge considered standard. Try again if you do not know how a phone works, while not speaking any language the hotel staff speaks...
Basically intuitive use of objects around us (that is, intuitively interfacing with them) does work according to the given model of 'knowledge gap'. But contrary to the cited article I'd state it's very logical. Humans react on patterns, structures and movement. Contrast is a powerful patterngenerating tool. Even moreso than colour is. Which in turn is generating more powerful patterns than text. (Try to do a stroop-test ). That's possible since we do not regard the knowledge-gap to be limiting (for now I'll use myself as an example: I'm a good reader with a very high speed of semantic understanding. Still a stroop-test fucks me up easily. I expect similar results for you and other readers getting this far into my response). Instead, understanding text needs more processing power than selecting on basis of different colours. And selecting on the basis of contrast is being done by using even older parts of the neuropathways in our eyes/brain. And therefore it uses even less processing power than colour.
The field of science (or art as I'd like to see it sometimes) is called applied psychology. Understanding how people perceive their surroundings gives us unique insights. Suddenly counter-intuitively intuitive interfaces will make sense
Just tried to speak that last sentence out loud. Wasn't really an intuitive use of language or so it seems
Another edit: About the apple:
I regard apples newest machines as highly intuitive. The way that works is in part by limiting options/choices. This way possible ways of action are much clearer. Ever stared blankly at a blinking cursor, knowing you could do about anything you wanted if you just knew how? Apple products limit the amount of things you can do at once. Therefore they severely limit the needed knowledge in several ways, thus bridging a large part of the gap. They also limit the possible goals with their aparatuses while also limiting certain niche inhabiting ways of reaching a certain goal while giving additional information. And on witheld information one cannot act.
Within the purpose of said devices apple has highly succeeded in producing an intuitive interface. Still, deviating from said uses either in purpose or in interfacing results in additional resistance.
Personally I find the image of a booting (older) linuxkernel to be a good example. To me it tells nothing, but I can deduce if everything is going allright by watching it. An expert knows whats happening at every given moment. My mum would freak out big time.
Again the knowledge-gap isn't the only thing limiting the interface in being perceived as intuitive. Ultimately it's the intended goal with it's road towards it that makes an interface intuitive. And that interface needs to be unintrusive and unobtrusive. NEither being described as part of being the 'knowledge-gap' theory, but both extremely important in understanding intuitive use of interfaces.
Extra edit: Thinking of the great design of for instance the Iphone 3g, I'd say the design is so good, it actually makes the device less intuitive. It's intuitive design actually 'catches the eye' and removes focus from the actual goal, therefore obtrusing reaching it. And the mere knowledge of said great design actually decreases it's intuitivity. So knwoledge actually can widen the knowledge-gap. Also it makes discussions about OSes, Phones, Tablets, Designs and other similar very difficult. You'd say the simple fact all good things about others products are copied from apple and all bad things are being outperformed by apples competing technology. It's only two choices and easy ones at that. Highly intuitive you'd say. But then again most of such discussions did not start as a comparisation and thus their goals got obfuscated by said easy choices. Thus: The wellknown fanboyism actually is a testament to the inherent unintuitive nature of apples otherwise great design.
Also: Because underlying fundamentals are really simple (the text-colour-contrast mechanism as example), truly intuitive designs will eventually resemble each other.
[Comment edited on Tuesday 1 March 2011 23:31]
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