Intuitive Design: Where You Been All My Life?

The spectacular success of Apple’s iPhone and other products has pushed the importance of intuitive and elegant design to the forefront of everyone’s mind.  Intuitive design goes beyond simply interacting with an application’s features and considers something deeper—our own instinct.

While it’s not something you can formally study, it is a way of thinking that improves the product. The result is an interface that’s easy to navigate and doesn’t get in the way of the job the user is trying to do. Software that has a visually complicated interface does not sell users on the power of the tool if it takes too long to figure out how it works. Users will quickly become frustrated and move on to a tool that’s easier to use.

Intuitive design is a far simpler concept than you may think. For example, consider the wildly exciting world of door knobs. We all know how use them–it’s the same nearly everywhere. You turn the knob and either pull, or push–you don’t need to be told each time you use a new doorknob how it works. Now take something more complex like a programmable thermostat. Each make and model has different features that vary across the board but essentially provide the same results. Most require some squinting, and even a user’s manual to come to grips with the features of a design that presents the user with too many options. Compare that to the thermostat below’s take on the same functionality (top). The user interface strips away all the complexity and boils it down to its essential purposes.

This design approach isn’t just for phones and tablets or devices—we’ve found that it helps guide the choices we make for delivering a superior user experience in Savanna, our multi-INT analysis solution. From the start screen to the seamless dragging and dropping of assets between components, Savanna optimizes the analyst’s workflow through intuitive design.

In our upcoming winter release of Savanna 3, the start screen places all the essential analysis tools within a simple mouse click. The MyStuff case management and organization feature offers improved, intuitive content organization and maximizes production workflow. MyStuff is more collection and tag- oriented than the traditional file system—all assets can be freely moved and co-mingled within and between projects by simply dragging and dropping. Savanna also allows users to drag and drop items where they make sense, whether it’s to visualize a document’s content geospatially or place a snippet of text into a custom document.

Like everything, there are some drawbacks to intuitive design—developers and designers have to be careful creating new elements and not let things get too cluttered. Our lead UI developer, Reggie, says, “I encourage the devs to create work that is for the most brilliant users, that aren’t necessarily technologists.” This mindset isn’t always easy to achieve, but you know it when you see it.

What are your thoughts on intuitive design? Do you use it in your own work? Tell us in the comments.

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