Intuitive is Irrelevant

By | July 27, 2012

Should a product be intuitive?  First let’s define what that means.

From Google: Using or based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning; instinctive.

Ok, so common wisdom is that a product should be intuitive.  However, I think this wisdom is actually an old wives tale.  It’s not true. A successful product does not have to be instinctive, rather it must be easy to remember once learned.  More importantly, it should be fun once learned.

Case #1: Apple iPod

The iPod is one of the most successful products ever.  It has sold over 300 million units worldwide.  Recently, I put one in the hands of a smart college graduate.  Important note: She has never used an iPod before, but she does have an iPhone, so she is familiar with gestures and modern technology.

I put here on a screen like this:

I asked her to go into the videos and play one.  Gesture should be rotate clockwise a bit and then center button 2 times.  Here is what she did:

  1. Click the screen above – didn’t work
  2. Click the bottom of the wheel – didn’t work
  3. Started to get frustrated
  4. Clicked the right side of the wheel – didn’t work
  5. Clicked the middle button – went into music
  6. Gave up

Let’s pause there.  A smart college graduate with an iPhone could not (at all) get an iPod to work.  So I showed her the gesture to scroll.  Clockwise, counter-clockwise.  At first she pressed in an scrolled at the same time and almost broke the iPod.  I showed her to do it softly.  Clearly the device wasn’t instinctive to do the scrolling.

Then I asked her to go back up to the original screen so we can try again.  (Remember, she went into Music by accident)  Steps:

  1. She tried scrolling – didn’t work
  2. Clicked Left – didn’t work (this frustrated her because the animation moved left-to-right, left should have worked.)
  3. Clicked right – didn’t work
  4. Got frustrated
  5. Clicked center – it went into the first band (Ace of Base)
  6. She got mad and quit

Again, complete task failure.  Not intuitive.  I showed her the gesture; Up.

Once I showed her the gestures, she learned them quickly and could then be proficient with the device.  At that point, she forgot all about the frustration and found the device fun to use.

The key to the iPod’s success was the fact that it was easy to remember once you learned and that it was fun to use after you learned.  It is one of the least intuitive devices I have ever seen.  It doesn’t matter though.  300 million sold doesn’t lie.

In any product you design, you have to make sure the design is fun to use and easy to remember.  It does NOT have to be instinctive for people to learn without learning.

I know this is a controversial stance, but I “calls em likes I sees em”.

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