Easy is not intuitive

We often see developers claiming that a feature is intuitive as in "easy to use". It might be obvious to some, but there is a big difference between "easy" and "intuitive". It is important to recognize the difference because easy is an unprecise term that can be used to label even confusing features.

Stop claiming that your product or its features are intuitive. You must test it first. How do you check whether something is intuitive or easy? Is there a problem not being intuitive? These are some issues we will talk about.

"Intuitive" is something immediately understandable by virtually anyone. And by immediately I mean really immediately. For effortless usability, you want most of your product to be intuitive.

In contrast, "easy" is something that takes a (short) while before the user figures out how it works. Sometimes it is unavoidable to have easy and non-intuitive UI, but you should always prefer the intuitive.

How do you test? One good way I found is to define "intuitive" as understandable even when the user is given only half a second exposure to the subject. Flash something for 500 milliseconds and ask the users if they understood it. Yes means intuitive.

"Easy" is tested in the same way. The thing is easy if users do not understand it within 500 ms of exposure, but they do with at most 5 seconds.

I've made an example test for you. Please play the video without pausing it.

The first picture that flashed is easy, the second is intuitive. Notice that there is nothing intrinsically intuitive about the second, we are just used to see it often to refer to that subject. This is how many things can be intuitive: by convention. There is nothing intrinsically intuitive about the symbol below, but it is intuitive because of convention. It has been used several times with one single meaning.

5 seconds is a long time just to understand some UI in your product. It is bearable, but not desirable. Make sure you check that the UI is intuitive before claiming so, because users could take that as a false promise.

The conclusive hint is:

Go for conventions. Unfamiliar/new elements are rarely intuitive.

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