Understanding Tacit Knowledge

| September 25th, 2006

I chanced upon an article by Jon Udell titled ‘The tacit dimension of tech support‘ which gave me an insight on tacit knowledge, knowledge that people use implicitly without even realizing it. Understanding this so called tacit knowledge will aid us in designing systems that are more intuitive and user friendly. Tacit knowledge is of two kinds, the first kind is knowing how to do things and the second, knowing how to find out how to do things.

Knowing How To Do Things

If I want to refine my search I know I can find the feature in something called the Advanced Search.

Knowing How To Find Out How To Do Things

If I want to refine my search at a particular site I can always Google about it.

Change Your Perspective

Determining the above knowledge for the target audience of your product could determine how sticky the users stay to your product. Usually while designing systems, the developers rely on their tacit knowledge which is not quite the same as that of the non-techie users. This particularly holds true to User Interface design. I have been part of many discussions on UI design for one of my projects. I have often argued on things like ‘we should have that link there and not here‘ because that seemed more reasonable to me. What I didn’t realize was that these arguments were based on my tacit knowledge and not that of a typical user.

Developers need to change their outlook and keep the above in mind the next time they go around designing systems.