I've been having another row. OK, you don't really care, but it threw up something interesting that I thought I would share with you.
See, I was having this yes it is, no it isn't, yes it is, look, Big Nose, no it isn't, sort of conversation with another computer journalist, when it produced something you ought to know about. It is the definition of the word intuitive.
I looked it up and got the traditional dictionary run around. 'Possessing intuition,' said the Oxford English Dictionary, helpfully. OK, so what does intuition mean then?
'Intuition: Immediate apprehension by the mind without reasoning,' said the dictionary.
All this came about when we were discussing how computers should be easy to use. It had dawned on me that whatever manufacturers might say about their products being intuitive, they are, in reality, about as intuitive as a set of instructions written in Sanskrit on how to assemble a hydroelectric dam.
An example: I thought I'd be clever and steal the definition of intuitive from Microsoft Bookshelf. 'The power of the mind by which it immediately perceives the truth of things without reasoning or analysis; a truth so perceived, immediate, instinctive knowledge or belief,' it said. Blimey, I thought, but decided to download it anyway. Perhaps there was meant to be a joke in there somewhere.
On highlighting the phrase and hitting the right mouse button I get an option to Copy To my wordprocessor. Thanks, I thought, jolly decent of you. But instead of a straight text copy, I get the quote in a different typeface plus a footnote. So now I'm mucking about trying to get the font right and kill off the footnote. How intuitive was that?
Another thing. Just to prove my point, can anyone define the Save As command in less than, say, five words? (Send your suggestions to PC Dealer and we will send you a prize - and we won't laugh behind your back at all, honest.)
If ever there was an affront to the English language (after the verb 'to leverage') it is the phrase intuitive front end. This isn't so much a job for the Plain English campaign as for the Trades Description Act.
No wonder so many people have trouble with their computers - they are all thinking that they are going to have an immediate insight into how to work the beastly things.
We - the industry - allow them to get the idea that the thousands of functions and features in, say, Word for Windows will somehow come to them in a dream while they are peacefully sleeping. Which is why customers are so grumpy when you talk to them.
OK, so perhaps telling customers 'it is going to be a nightmare getting this product to work' is not the best way of selling it to them, but at least you aren't trying to convince them it's intuitive. Perhaps as a last resort you can tell them you might be able to get them a manual if there are any problems - that's bound to make them feel better.
Chris Long is a freelance IT journalist.
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