Mark Needham

Thoughts on Software Development

Use of language: Intuitive

without comments

Sumeet and I were recently discussing the difference between the use of Google Groups for internal communication compared to the Jive platform which we’re now moving to and I suggested that I found the former more intuitive to use.

Sumeet suggested that the word ‘intuitive’ is quite overloaded and later pointed me to an article on the Moodle website which advocates the same thing:

Intuitive is a word you should avoid in discussions of usability as its meaning is often confused.

It is generally accepted that a large part of usability is based on familiarity and experience.

Using ‘intuitive’ as a short-hand for something that is familiar often gives the impression that if something is ‘intuitive’ then it is so regardless of prior learning or experience and therefore equally true for everyone.

While the article is technically correct, from my experience it’s very difficult to get people to change the language that they use and to tell them to not use certain words is likely to provoke a defensive reaction.

I’ve found it more useful to look beneath the language used to work out exactly what is meant by the word since that’s what you’re really interested in.

In my case the use of the word ‘intuitive’ means that the way Google Groups works is exactly the same as other mailing lists that I’ve used previously.

Therefore when we moved to using Google Groups internally about 15 months ago it was really easy for me to understand how to use it.

The steps are pretty much:

  • Search for mailing list I’m interested in
  • Subscribe to mailing list
  • Messages on that mailing list come to my inbox
  • Job done!

With Jive the ‘algorithm’ has to be a bit different because you’re initially met with a new feed which contains absolutely everything that people have posted.

It’s conceptually the same as being met with the twitter stream for every single person using twitter.

The only difference I can really see between twitter and Jive is that twitter doesn’t default to having every single item on your stream, you have to build it up yourself.

That was pretty similar to the metaphor being used by the Facebook news feed which I was already familiar with and could therefore get the hang of very quickly.

On the other hand I’ve found it more difficult to work out how to reduce the noise on Jive so that it would only contain information I’m interested in.

It would probably be possible to find some documentation that would explain what I need to do but I like it better when I can work out how to use something myself without external help.

Maybe it’ll just take me a bit longer to work out how to use Jive and then it’ll be as intuitive to me as Google Groups and twitter are.

For further reading, Jared Spool has an interesting article where he goes into much more detail than I have about what makes a design seem to be intuitive.

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Written by Mark Needham

March 13th, 2011 at 1:39 pm

Posted in Communication

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