Why ‘Intuitive’ Interface Is A Myth

Was the mouse “intuitive” before you learned to use it? Probably not. So intuition alone shouldn’t drive UI.

Why ‘Intuitive’ Interface Is A Myth

We toss around the term “intuitive” a lot when it comes to user interface. We think of Apple products, and the way they redefined PCs and smartphones through systems that “just worked.”


But Timoni West, a designer at Foursquare, makes an interesting argument. Sometimes, these so-called intuitive gestures are a poor substitute for a clearly explained alternative. Her advice:

… don’t feel like every single action you design right now, in this Wild West time of interaction design, has to be completely intuitive. There are things we think are intuitive now that we learned using tutorials decades ago. Andrei Herasimchuk pulled up a great old Apple tutorial on how to use a mouse. Do you remember those? Probably not, even if you’re above a certain age, and your kids or siblings (or maybe even you) have likely never seen them. They learned how to use a mouse by watching people instead. People don’t come out of the womb knowing how to use a mouse—they do learn it, at some point—but once the information is out there they can learn so seamlessly it doesn’t matter.

In other words, don’t strive above all else to make your interface intuitive, just make it very easy to learn. This piece got me thinking: Pinch-to-zoom is the epitome of what most of us would call an intuitive gesture in 2013. But would you have figured it out having never heard the term?

Seriously, would you have picked up an iPhone with Google Maps loaded and thought to yourself, “I can pinch this glass screen to enlarge the whole image”? Of course not. Nothing in real life–from newspaper print to a magnifying glass–works like that. But it’s amazing because it simply feels fantastic, requiring minimal effort while provoking a response from the interface that is perfectly predictable. And once you go through the motions, you’ll never forget them again.

Picking your nose is intuitive. Much like Kleenex, pinch-to-zoom is intuitive only in retrospect.

Read more here.

[Hat tip: Matt Buchanan]


[Image: Pinch to Zoom via Shutterstock/Illustration: Kelly Rakowski/Co.Design]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started, a simple way to give back every day.