Intuition, What A Show. Intuition, Here We Go.

I have two nieces – Charlye (18 months) and Brooklyn (5 months) – and a nephew – Gabriel (3 soon to be 4). While Brooklyn is amiable, Charlye and Gabi can be quite a handful and when they are my brother and sister are quick to put an iPad in front of them. Charyle and Gabi (who are in Maryland and New York respectively) pick it up and use it as if they have had the technology for years now. What I am curious to know is: is this merely mimesis at work or is intuition something that needs to be added to discoverability and understanding for important design characteristics. I won’t deny the impact of mimesis. While I’m not expert in child psychology, I feel I’ve read enough to know that the major way in which infants and toddlers learn is through copying what they see their parents do but is that all? Or is there something else at play here? Is the design of an Apple product so understandable and discoverable that even a human, weeks away from being tabula rasa can use it?

Ok, maybe I’m being a bit hyperbolic here. By their age Gabi and Charlye are hardly blank slates, they know the necessities: eating, sleeping, walking, etc. But to use that technology so seamlessly has to reflect well upon the company in some way. Perhaps it’s Apple’s usage of signifiers that makes their products so great but if that were the case, why would Gabi or Charlye know more than how to unlock the screen with a swipe? Let’s get specific. When they receive their iPads, not only can Charlye and Gabi unlock the iPad with a swipe, they can find the app that they like, the one with the “moo” or the “roar”. They know the symbol for movies and can pick out an episode (though the signifier here would be a still from the episode.) So does this prove Gibsonian psychology that posits the world contains clues and we pick them up through “direct perception”? Enhance it? Or maybe negate it.

Taking that a step further: harkening back to the Bret Victor video we watched last week, in all the examples of this sort of new-age, futuristic technology that Microsoft was showing, I found it curious that there were no signifiers. In their mind, the signifier seemed to have gone the way of the dodo. In its place was …well, intuition one could argue. The user needs no arrow to show it to swipe left or swipe right, they just simply know. Is this something that they intuit or are they evolving in parallel with the technology. In counter to Victor, I argued that maybe we shouldn’t be as reliant on our hands as we want to be despite how expressive they can be. At the time I didn’t know what should take it’s place and now, maybe I do. Maybe it’s…intuition.

Think about the launch of the new iPhone 7. When it launched, the internet (or at least reddit) was in a collective tizzy over the lack of a headphone jack. This isn’t the first time that Apple has drastically changed their design and it won’t be the last yet people continuously come back to it. Is it because of familiarity or does the fact that we have pleasure – by way of design – in our pockets keep us coming back. I whole-heartedly agree with the fact that good design means that beauty and usability are at a balance and maybe Apple is the perfect testament to that. I prefer the aesthetic of the Apple to the Nexus therefore I’m willing to overlook what I think are sort of …not design flaws in terms of they aren’t functional but…not what I particularly want to get from a design. And maybe it’s my ability to intuit how to use the new iPhone 7 without the jack that makes me overlook my distaste for their “courage”.

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