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That was a long way to say that when we call a UI "intuitive", we really mean that it is "familiar". Hopefully this comment clarifies for others what was meant by the metaphors.


Another thing to note is that many truly intuitive things are not necessarily easy at least at first. Riding a bicycle is in fact intuitive, but many find it difficult in the beginning. Snowboarding and skiing are also intuitive, but people often experience a significant learning curve.

Heck, flying a plane is definitely intuitive, but it takes a large number of hours to be considered good enough to do it on your own.

EDIT: The ultimate example is flying a helicopter. All of the parts of a helicopter are so dynamically linked, a simply described operation like "move to the right" is going to take a bunch of simultaneous adjustments on several controls at once. There is actually no way to fly a helicopter, except intuitively, and it's definitely not easy at first.


I think you are using the term intuitive differently to how most people use it in relation to user interfaces.

In your helicopter example, the interface is (your) intuitive because it can't be done by thinking, you have to just "intuit" what to do.

However, people would say the helicopter is highly counter-intuitive, since there are four main controls and four degrees of freedom, with obvious linkages between them to anyone who has a passing knowledge of 'copters or 'planes. Despite this, every control affects two or more degrees of freedom, which is highly counter-intuitive, since everyone is used to vehicles where the controls affect only one degree of freedom.

TL;DR: You are using intuition to mean "unconscious competence", but generally, intuitive is used as a synonym of "obvious."


Before the term "intuitive" was bent a little by common usage in the tech fields, it had a basis in "unconscious competence." Unconscious competencies based on in-built the physical modeling tools of our nervous system are very powerful. Leveraging these in-built capabilities to build our UIs is also very powerful.

Awareness of all of these different sorts of "intuitiveness" probably distinguishes the excellent UI designers from the average ones.

EDIT: Not only are the unconscious competencies very powerful, they also tend to be highly optimized.


But the use of the term "familiar" here is, alley oop, a metaphor. Which is what Raskin takes the long way to say in the article you reference.

My point is: this problematic does not only apply to UI design. In general, whenever we use abstraction (which we do all the time, often in the name of brevity) we are taking a risk-- and one of those risks, to extend Raskin's metaphor, is uncanniness.


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