Intuitive? I think not

“Intuitive” seems to be a bit of a dirty word among, shall we say, more mature computer users

IntuitionMany, many times I have listened with sympathy as an IT Support client has told me that a younger family member has insisted that the computer struggles they are suffering are “weird” because the iPhone/tablet/computer is “so intuitive”. The implication is that you should understand it without any conscious effort or specific prior knowledge.

Well, I have a number of thoughts about this, including:

1) Said younger family member probably spends hours and hours a day playing with his/her device and probably tries several things to make a function work without even realising that they are trying different things (eg swipe something left, right, up, down, press on something, hit the back button and try a different route). This is not intuition – it’s trial and error based upon hours and hours and hours of experience (often spent while walking down the street, with head down instead of looking where they are going).

2) Added to the “trial and error” approach mentioned above, we all know that younger people are less fearful in trying things out than older ones. “Will it get me stuck somewhere I can’t get out of”, “Will I get locked out?”, “Will I delete everything”, “Will I break the internet?” are questions that don’t seem to occur to youngsters as they learn to handle IT.

3) Young children teach and show each other. If someone discovers a new app/trick/website then isn’t it quite natural that they’ll show it to their mates?

So, I don’t think it’s “intuition” at all. I’ll offer just two examples to support this “theory” (alright, “contention” might be a better word):

Example 1 – Fitbit

Fitbit pull to sync
Fitbit’s “Pull to sync” hint is only revealed after you’ve started “pulling”
For the last three years or so I have been using Fitbit fitness trackers. They have some great points and some pretty bad ones. Some of the bad ones are really irritating. Here’s just one of them:

Data from the big black clunky “watch” has to be “synchronised” with the smartphone. This will happen automatically, but you can force it to synchronise. Now, instead of just tapping a “button” on the screen of the smartphone marked “Synchronise”, you have to press on the screen and drag downwards. Once you start doing the “dragging”, a helpful hint is displayed which says “Pull to sync” (ie drag downwards) When you have pulled far enough another message appears that says “Release to sync”.

In other words, the hint doesn’t even appear until you have started to perform the action that the hint will tell you to perform. In what way could this possibly be called “intuitive”? It is stupid. You need to know what you are doing before you are given a hint about how to do it! And how can “pulling” and “releasing” be easier or more “intuitive” than a simple tap? I know not.

Example 2 – iPhone Files

ios Files - 01
No sign of how to change file order until……
The latest version of Apple’s IOS operating system (for iPhones and iPads) includes a very welcome app called “Files” which lists certain types of data files stored on the device (eg pdf files, Word docs) and gives access to those files by just tapping on them. However, the files are listed in alphabetic order and there appears to be no way of changing this order (eg to Date order). So, I’ve been using this app and quietly cursing its lack of flexibility.

Then, today, it occurred to me to try to “drag down” in the same way that forces a “synch” in Fitbit. Surprise, surprise. A dropdown menu appeared that allows for sorting by different parameters (including Date order).

ios Files - 02
… you drag downwards and reveal the dropdown menu
Now, it could just be argued that my attempting to drag downwards was “intuition”. I would say that that is just nonsense. It occurred to me to try and pull downwards because I’ve spent hours and hours and hours tinkering with computers, applications, apps, devices and so forth and been irritated on a daily basis by Fitbit’s “Pull to synch” feature. Intuition has nothing whatever to do with it. It is experience. It is also experience that led me to try tapping on “date” again in the “Files” example to see if it would sort in the opposite direction. It did.

So, the next time someone under 40 tells you how intuitive it all is, just be grateful that you haven’t spent as big a proportion of your life wrestling with the technology as they (and I) obviously have.