Unintuitive Interfaces

Expanding on Jared Spool’s thoughts on learning cycles and so-called ‘intuitive’ interfaces, Vicky Teinaki discusses the ‘knowledge matrix’ and makes this interesting point that I feel almost embarrassed to have not thought about previously:

Digital devices can never be inherently ‘intuitive’, as the fact that they deal in abstraction automatically means that actions must be arbitrary. (An aside: for those who argue that much of gestural and time based interactions are intuitive, remember that this assumes a Western way of looking at space and time. Anthropologists would tell you that there are other ways.) In other words, interfaces aren’t ‘intuitive’, they’re ‘intuited’: before that, there’s nothing ‘intuitive’ about them at all.

If you’re wondering what Vicky means by this, this excerpt from Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness may enlighten you:

When we draw a time line, those of us who speak English put the past on the left, those of us who speak Arabic put the past on the right, and those of us who speak Mandarin put the past on the bottom.

It goes without saying that how we believe people read our sites is based on cultural assumptions.

via Devan Goldstein



3 responses to “Unintuitive Interfaces”

  1. Vicky Teinaki

    Hi Lloyd,
    Thanks for elaborating on Western-centric thinking in comparison to other cultures. My eyes were opened to our cultural assumptions by Richard E. Nisbett’s ‘Geography of Thought’ (Western vs. Asian), but I wasn’t aware of Gilbert.

  2. Hi Vicky,

    Thanks for the comment and the hint towards Nisbett’s Geography of Thought; I’ve added it to my seemingly never-ending list of books to read.

    Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness is a fantastic book, full of interesting anecdotes and research. However it doesn’t really touch on culture-specific thinking much more than the excerpt above.

    Thanks again!

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