Friday, December 6, 2013

Intuitive Design per Jared Spool: Day 2 of @OSIsoftvCampus VCL#13

When I learned that Intuitive Design was going to be the 8:30am session
at OSIsoft's 2013 vCampus Live, I made sure to be on time. I've done a bit of reading on usability and plowed through Steve Krug's book, "Don't Make Me Think." (Why is the obvious so out of reach?)

Any corporate citizen who's had to operate enterprise software has had to deal with non-intuitive interfaces. From manufacturing execution systems (MES) to enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, there are armies of confused employees relying on power-users to execute critical business workflows.

Why is it easier to purchase something from Amazon than it is to buy stuff using SAP? Why can I find information on Google faster than I can find trends in my data historian?

As with Steve Krug's book, I was not disappointed by Jared Spool's talk. I was quite stunned by his definition of "Intuitive design."

Mr. Spool says that there is such a thing as an acquired knowledge continuum (that he represented as an escalator).

acquired knowledge continuum
Click on image to go to Jared Spool's site.

At the bottom of this continuum are people with no knowledge of how to use your system; at the top are people who know everything there is to know about the system (developers).

Somewhere on this continuum is what he calls, "Target Knowledge." Target knowledge is the amount of knowledge that the user needs to perform their duties. Also on this continuum is "Current Knowledge." Current knowledge is what the user knows right now.

The knowledge gap is the distance between target knowledge and current knowledge.

A design is intuitive when knowledge gap = 0.

Closing this knowledge gap is done in many ways. You can raise current knowledge with training. You can lower target knowledge with simplification. But to ultimately build an intuitive system, you at least have to know these terms and figure out at which point your system features impede usability.

The (lack of) usability with Enterprise Software is that enterprise software is feature-driven. As customers demand features that are required by their business, vendors clamor to pack their systems with features, in so doing raising the target knowledge higher and higher on the escalator.

And as MES and ERP systems evolve, they become unusable because only the few power users can master the richness of the features. Jared Spool's proposal is to understand your "killer features" and drop everything else.

Jared's response to people who cannot summon the courage to drop features? "Don't worry, your competitors will."

He may be right. Here is Mr. Spool's website: User Interface Engineering (

Thanks for the talk, @jmspool. It was a pleasure listening to you.

1 comment:

Steve Boyko said...

Interesting write-up, Oliver! I wish I had been there to hear it.

I would think a design is intuitive when the distance between no knowledge and and target knowledge is minimal, not when the gap is zero. It might take a lot of work to close that gap!