Intuitive design not so intuitive.

As a software and web developers we strive to create intuitive business solutions for our clients. However over the years we have discovered that what is intuitive for some is not for others.

Intuition is the sum of your experience.

Intuition is not the same for everyone, this is because intuition is borne out of experience and not everybody has the same knowledge or experience.

For example recently we purchased an iPad for testing purposes at work. I struggled to use it as first because I have been conditioned over the years to use PCs. My experience and intuition was pushing me to try to use the iPad in ways that wouldn?t work. It was very frustrating to say the least especially as all the branding compels you to expect an intuitive experience. My son (7) on the other hand has not been preconditioned in his use of technology and took to the iPad very easily. It is an age and experience thing, one which App developers are tapping into with some very intuitive Apps. The Telegraph recently published their top 10 iOS apps for kids.

In the end I resorted to having to look up the instructions and re-train myself to use the iPad. Something I considered surprising as I think myself good with software and work for a company that designs intuitive software.

Training & Intuition

Clients often say to us that they shouldn't need training on our systems as they are supposed to be intuitive. In most cases this is correct as we try to build systems based around users business processes. However, if what we are replacing are spreadsheets then a clients intuition is based on using them. What we design is meant to be more effective therefore will inherently be different. Therefore intuition based on their spreadsheet use won?t work and some training is required to re-balance the experience.

The implementation of a new software system often takes place as part of major changes with in a company and so users experiences will be undergoing a major transformation which is why such change management needs to be controlled properly and the appropriate resources/ training put in place

There has got to be rules!

In the development of any software system there has got to be rules; rules help form experience and therefore intuition. When developing e-commerce system you follow the rules of best practice that have been tried and tested over the years. You do not try to reinvent the wheel or create a radically different experience as this can cause the user to get lost and lose trust in the shop.

Even in open source software development, often seen as free and open, there are rules to maintain the integrity of the various development projects.

Using spreadsheets as a business tool can be dangerous as there are no rules. The user is free to make them up as they go along. Whilst this may appeal to some, it plays havoc with things like data validation. It also skews a users experience and therefore intuition so when they reach the limitation of what the spreadsheets can do for their business and decide to invest in proper business systems they are faced with a dilemma" rules or no rules!

Proper business systems use rules for validation and to create order. This makes the business data more valuable and usable. The user however may feel constrained as they now do not have the flexibility they previously enjoyed. This is where training is vital to help the user learn their new experience.

Target the design to the audience.

One way to help ensure that software is intuitive for the user is to target the design to the audience.

My experience as PC user meant that I didn't feel the iPad was intuitive and I had to re-establish my intuition through training and experience. I still struggle in parts with using the iPad but that is because it isn't designed for people like me who like to delve into the workings of things.

The younger generation on the whole will find their way round the iPad (and the internet) as it is natural rather than a 40 year old who has had to learn it and break preconceptions and habits.


I definitely think that intuition is the sum of all our experiences. In software I like to think I am very experienced and therefore find things naturally intuitive but as my recent experience with the iPad shows, my intuition is always developing and even I need training. I am not alone in this.

Date: 05/01/2012


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