Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Unintuitive Nature of Creating Intuitive Designs - Jared Spool Keynote Day 3 - DrupalCon Chicago

Jared Spool was funny and right on, a great final keynote speaker for DrupalCon, reminding Drupal developers about how hard it is to create “intuitive” designs, but exhorting us to use several techniques that will help us achieve such designs. This long-time human factors engineer is truly a usability guru - he knows his stuff. When Spool speaks, all web developers/designers must listen... (content developers must listen, as well...)

Jason Samuels, who I met at DrupalCon & who was a fellow tweeter at the conference, has done a great writeup on this session at:

Also, take a look at the DrupalCon Chicago site to view the video of the keynote (not sure if it will remain at this url, but it is currently visible at It’s definitely worth it!

I’ll just give you my raw notes, because I don’t have a lot of time to post about everything I saw and learned here at DrupalCon Chicago. Hopefully, they’ll be helpful to someone.

Avis went against understood design patterns - * next to optional (v. required) fields... to avoid a senseless waste of asterisks!
learned unintuitiveness - the asterisk (now means required)

What is an intuitive design?

AIGA website in the 90s (Am Inst. of Graphic Artists) - “they built the damn thing in Flash” - created scrollbars in Flash, to keep visual integrity in place, but scrolling didn’t work well only went up 1 line of pixels at a time

the problem was that they didn’t understand how to build a scrollbar (which is actually really complicated, as simple as it sounds, it’s hard to do. Only like 7 people are left who know how to do this, but we don’t need to build new ones - it’s a done project, take it off the list... it’s perfectly functional, as is.) But AIGA built scrollbars from scratch, nonetheless and, of course, didn’t know how to build them so they created tremendous usability issues. This took focus off of the content and instead focused the user on the site’s unintuitiveness.

Intuitive design keeps user focused on their objective

It’s not noticeable. It’s invisible.

it’s not the novelty that makes something unintuitive... could you have an unintuitive design in a simple page?

found 1 a while back at the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture - Hay Net - how can you screw this up - very simple, you either need hay or have hay... but end-users didn’t know if you the link labelled “Need Hay” would give them list of people who needed hay or was for people who needed hay.

Intuitiveness has nothing to do with complexity vs. simplicity

it has to do with being invisible; if I have to take focus off what I’m trying to accomplish, I’ve lost intuitiveness

hard to put up pictures of good design - you don’t notice it

like air conditioning, only notice it if too hot or too cold

An intuitive design is personal, though, so we have to know about our users

ATM may be most intuitive thing we’ve designed; but there are confusing ones - 1 in India - 3 similar options: “Cash withdrawal”, “Fast cash”, “Ultra fast cash”
What does that mean?
could invent an unusable ATM - put everything on it, but in another language - but this is similar to this is often what we do with design

just look at anything Microsoft has ever designed - unintuitive (I think he played this one just for laughs - it worked... it was a good example from the Access 97 days, I think).

You would think after years of selling subway tickets, it would be simple to do, but as the photo of the fare card purchasing machines (& their instructions) shows, it’s not!

current knowledge is what they come to the design with

target knowledge is what they need to know to use design

so the difference between the two is called the “knowledge gap” -

only design for this gap... nothing above, nothing below

current knowledge should be = target knowledge for design to be intuitive

2 ways to fix gap:

1. train user (bring them up to target knowledge)

2. simplify design (bring design to them)

- ongoing cost option = training

options: training v. simplifying

Wang word processing machines in the late 70s - so much training required - paid $14K for A week-long course simply to load file, save file, and print file... The advanced course included italics and bold...

original Wordperfect - the little cardboard/keyboard templates to put around the function keys to show all of the features - so many features!
we go from raw technology to something with lots & lots of features (too many for most users) to simplicity... The one designed to be simple takes the prize (Microsoft Word v. Wordperfect in the early days of pcs / word processing programs)!
... then shift back to wanting more features
the same thing happens in hardware world

raw technology-->more & more features-->simplified experience

you can make the shift from features to experience

Problem with extra features is that they create a gap between current knowledge and target knowledge
users bring their own current knowledge to the table... they’re all over the map, though

multiple domains of knowledge, too... that’s what makes creating something intuitive REALLY HARD

What techniques can we use to make it easier?

used these techniques for years, very effective:

1. field visits - have the makers meet the customers (“Jane Goodall” experience)

1a. helps identify who the users are and their current knowledge

2. usability testing (not user testing, because not testing user, testing design)

3. quick tests:

- paper prototyping

- five-second tests

Handbook of Usability Testing is recommended book

paper prototyping - using their finger as a mouse (the original pointing device - "mouse classic")

shows us about flow

and if the labels that you’re thinking of are working

also recommends book Paper Prototyping, Carolyn Snyder

five-second tests (which you can do in 10 minutes) (5-seconds to memorize screen then write down all you remember about it & rate it)

just username/pwd, live chat boxes -

support cases - 8

challenge: watch users interacting with your design: at least 2 hours every 6 weeks

this is not rocket science

when upgrading to a more usable version - don’t bring the whole system down!

"Facebook has mastered the art of screwing with its users"

like your kitchen cabinets got all rearranged when you were sleeping - the usability fairies change everything - you didn’t ask for it, but they’ve decided to do it - the goal wasn’t to have a more efficient system, but to get kids off to school, which the new changes don't help with (beware of turning into the usability fairies)

destroying the users’ current knowledge

so how do we deal with this?
mitigate pain of change with bubbles, overlays to show what the new functionality is

but have to think about the process of designing for the change
design the process of change for the user base

we have to give them some control over this

- an intuitive design is invisible, personal, when the user is focused on their objective
- when current = target knowledge
- when design is focused on experience
- different users have different current knowledge
- you need to collect feedback about your users and their knowledge
- design for embraceable knowledge

spend at least 2 hours in the next 6 weeks to watch users interact with your design

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