Kathy Sierra on Making Users Awesome, Part 10

In the book, Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra analyzed and discussed the new ways of thinking about designing and sustaining successful products and services.

These are some of my takeaways from reading the book.

In previous chapters, we learned from Kathy that we should our users train their brains to pay attention. Our minds continuously try to filter out spam/noises, so we need to work hard in making our tasks not get caught in the brain’s spam filter.

Even more so, we need to create situations where the user’s brain will think the tasks to be significant enough for the brain to care to interact with it.

  • We want our tasks to be something the brain will care about.
  • We want our tasks to be something the brain will pay attention to.
  • We want our tasks to be something the brain will want to remember.

Why? Because …

  • The brain cares about things that cause a feeling or an emotional response.
  • The brain pays attention to things that are odd, surprising, and unexpected.
  • The brain wants things resolved so that it can remember the answer/outcome for future reference.

Most marketing content is more learnable and memorable than most learning content for good reasons. The critical difference is that marketing focuses on the compelling context, while the manuals and learning content focuses on the tool.

It is no wonder that the brain chooses to remember the marketing messages because it considers those messages with the emotional response are more worthy. The learning content that is about the tool becomes more of emotional-flatline spam that the brain wants to filter out.

Kathy stated, “The best way to deal with the brain’s spam filter is to reduce the number of things that need to get past it.” This means we should strive the deliver the learning and the knowledge to our brain in a Just-In-Time fashion.

Unfortunately, Just-In-Case is the predominant model for most forms of learning. To the brain, the Just-In-Case style of knowledge can seem useless and like spam.

Not every piece of knowledge can be delivered in a Just-In-Time style. There will be some Just-In-Case knowledge the user must learn before they need to use it. For those pieces of knowledge that the users don’t know but need to know before their skill can make progress, we need to do two things.

  1. We need to validate the absolute need for the knowledge
  2. We need to help the users convince their brain that the knowledge is necessary

We need to be selective about the Just-In-Case knowledge to acquire now because our cognitive resources for a given day are limited.

Kathy also asserted, “If we really care about our users, we’ll help them do what they want, not what we want.” The goal of our users is not merely to become badass at our product or service.

Our users want to become more skillful, more knowledgeable, and more capable. Our users want to be badass in life!

Kathy Sierra on Making Users Awesome, Part 9

In the book, Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra analyzed and discussed the new ways of thinking about designing and sustaining successful products and services.

These are some of my takeaways from reading the book.

In previous chapters, we learned from Kathy that we should help our users by reducing the cognitive leaks that can result from interacting with our product/service.

But how? Kathy has outlined the following suggestions.

Tactic #1. Delegate cognitive work to something in the world.

Design an interface that has a separate, labeled, visible control for everything essential the users need to do. When we force the users to memorize the knowledge necessary to interact with every aspect of our product/service, we create cognitive leaks.

Cheat sheets can save users from spending cognitive resources in trying to memorize and recall. At the same time, we also need to recognize the potential benefit of fast and effortless operation after the users learned and memorized the instructions. Remembering vs. not-memorizing is a trade-off.

Tactic #2. Make the right action the most natural and obvious action.

For every action our users need to take, we should ask ourselves, “What is the most likely thing to do here?” Based on the answer, design accordingly, or we might need to add “knowledge in the world” (clear labeling, for example) to help our users.

Tactic #3. Do not make our users choose.

Choices, especially the unnecessary ones, are cognitively expensive.

Tactic #4. Help our users automate skills.

Learning too many sub-skills at a time can introduce severe cognitive leaks. We should help our users practice one skill at a time and quickly master it. Help our users make everything else around practice easier to do.

Tactic #5. Help with the top-of-mind problem.

Some skills or actions required for mastering the product/service cannot be improved much by merely using deliberate practice. For those skills and activities, we can enlist the help from some device that can always remind us what needs to be done, so we do not spend cognitive resources trying to remember to do something consistently.

Tactic #6. Reduce the need for willpower.

We need to help our users stay motivated, and, at the same time, exercising willpower drains cognitive resources. To reduce the need for willpower, we can improve our users’ capacity in several ways.

First, we can help our users build automatic habits for some tasks. Habits require little or no willpower.

Second, we can help our users have more intrinsically rewarding experiences when interacting with our product/service. Intrinsically rewarding experiences do not require willpower. The key is to strike an alignment between the tasks and the compelling context.

Finally, we can help our users train their brains to pay attention. Our minds continuously try to filter out spam/noises, so we need to work hard in making our tasks not caught in the brain’s spam filter. Create situations where the user’s brain will think the tasks to be significant enough for the brain to care to interact with it.

Kathy Sierra on Making Users Awesome, Part 8

In the book, Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra analyzed and discussed the new ways of thinking about designing and sustaining successful products and services.

These are some of my takeaways from reading the book.

Up to this point, Kathy discussed how we could help our users keep wanting to and get better at a skill. We can help them by assisting them to practice right and gain exposure to the right things.

We can also help them focus on what motivation path and payoffs they would need and what would make them stop the forward progress. But we will need one primary ingredient to make it all work. That ingredient is the users’ cognitive processing capacity.

Based on prior researches, we know this one thing about our cognitive processing capacity.

Willpower and cognitive processing draw from the same pool of mental resources.

If that is the case, Kathy asserted that we should always be asking, “where do my users want to spend their precious cognitive resources? What can we do to help? What are we doing that hurts?”

Remember that users ultimately care about the “compelling context.” We should construct our product/service in a way that it stops stealing cognitive resources from the users.

We want our users to use cognitive resources when interacting with our product/service.

We do not want our users to waste them, so don’t make them think about the wrong things when they interact with our product/service.

Kathy Sierra on Making Users Awesome, Part 7

In the book, Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra analyzed and discussed the new ways of thinking about designing and sustaining successful products and services.

These are some of my takeaways from reading the book.

In this section, Kathy continues the discussion on how to help our users keep wanting to get better at a skill. We can help them move forward with two approaches.

The first approach is to remove the blocks to their progress. The second approach is to examine the elements that can pull the user forward.

To help users stayed motivated, we need to give them two things: progress and payoff.

We know what to do with managing the progress. What can we do about the payoff?

Kathy suggests that we need to provide ideas and tools to help users use their current skills early and often.

By asking the question, “What can they do within the first 30 minutes?” we seek to lower the initial threshold for “user-does-something-meaningful.”

However, fear can derail users before they start. If we want the users to feel powerful early, we need to anticipate and compensate for anything that keeps them from experimenting.

We can give users the ability to try things and provide them the information and tools to recover from their experiments without breaking anything.

The ideal user path is a continuous series of loops, each with a motivating “next superpower” goal, skill-building work with exposure-to-good-examples, followed by a payoff.

The best payoff of all is those intrinsically rewarding experiences when the users celebrate the experience reward for its own sake. Two kinds of intrinsic motivation can be powerful.

The first kind is the “High Resolution,” where the users develop an appreciation for increasingly more subtle details when others cannot perceive.

The second kind is the “Flow” where the users are so fully absorbed in a stimulating and challenging activity that they lose the sense of time.

The users need to reach those high-payoff goals for themselves, but we can give them some tips and tricks for the domain to help them get there faster.

The tips and tricks are not convenient, cut-the-corner short-cuts. They are about helping the users bypass the unnecessarily long way. We do not want our users to spend too much time reinforcing beginner skills. We need to help them to make progress on their paths continually.

Kathy Sierra on Making Users Awesome, Part 6

In the book, Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra analyzed and discussed the new ways of thinking about designing and sustaining successful products and services.

These are some of my takeaways from reading the book.

In this section, Kathy continues the discussion on how to help our users keep wanting to get better at a skill. We can help them move forward with two approaches.

The first approach is to remove the blocks to their progress. The second approach is to examine the elements that can pull the user forward.

To help users stayed motivated, we need to give them two things: progress and payoff.

What should we do about manage the progress? Kathy suggests that we need to describe the path with guidelines to help the users know where they are at each step.

An ideal performance path map should have three elements:

One, clear steps of progression from beginner to badass. The steps should define what we do, not what we learn.

Two, a way to assess where we are relative to the full map.

Three, a creditable reason to believe it works. Also, the confidence that it can work without “natural talent” or spectacular luck.

But what happens when different experts disagree on the right path? It is OK because experts disagree on the right way because they probably do not know what it should be. They can conjure up a path based on their own experience or what they have observed from a few others.

We want our users-as-learners to be resilient. Resilience means to move forward despite problems on the way. Doing the right things in the right ways make a path robust, even if it is not the optimal path.

When the performance path map works, it instills the feeling of progression. That progression also leads to the increasing resolution effect for the users.

In summary, it is never about the map.

It is about what the map reflects and enables.

It is about meaningful progress.

Kathy Sierra on Making Users Awesome, Part 5

In the book, Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra analyzed and discussed the new ways of thinking about designing and sustaining successful products and services.

These are some of my takeaways from reading the book.

In the previous sections, Kathy discusses how to help our users to get better at a skill. We can help them practice right, and we also can help them get perceptual exposure.

In this section, Kathy continues the discussion on how to help our users keep wanting to get better at a skill. We can help them move forward with two approaches.

The first approach is to remove the blocks to their progress.

The key question to ask for keeping our users move forward is not, “What pulls them forward?” It is, “What makes them stop?” We need to help our users identify the “derailer” and remove it.

Our product/service serves as a “source-of-pulling” by keeping the users moving on a forward path.

Often there may be another force that is pulling the user away from the path. That force is the “source-of-derailing.”

We need to help our users minimize the impact of the “derailing” force. In other words, we help our users focus on reducing what slows or stops them.

The “derailing” force generally creates two elements, the “Gap of Suck” and the “Gap of Disconnect.”

The “Suck Zone” is guaranteed pain for everyone learning to do something. The “Gap of Suck” is the large, painful gap between our user’s motivating goal and their early experiences in the “Suck Zone.”

The “Gap of Disconnect” is the loss of motivation that occurs after buying our product/service. The users lost the connection between the compelling context pre-purchase and the tool post-purchase. They no longer trust that we will help them with anything but the typical business transaction of the tool.

The solution for combatting the derailer is to “Anticipate” and “Compensate.”

We need to anticipate the most likely faces our users might make and questions they might ask if we were next to them.

We also need to compensate for our users’ inability to show and tell us what they are experiencing.

To help users get through the “Gap of Suck” is to acknowledge it. Everything associated with our support for the beginner should convey the “First Day Sucks, but Second Day Gets Better” message.

The best places to uncover what other things we must compensate for are the online discussion forums.

To do a good job in compensating, do not hide the issue or deny it. Ether fix something that makes that problem go away completely or “Just Tell Them.”

Kathy Sierra on Making Users Awesome, Part 4

In the book, Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra analyzed and discussed the new ways of thinking about designing and sustaining successful products and services.

These are some of my takeaways from reading the book.

In this section, Kathy continues to discuss the two attributes for building skills. The first common attribute across all domains in which people become experts is that those experts practice better.

The second attribute is “Perceptual Exposure.” Experts were exposed to high quantity, high quality of expertise. However, being exposed to the example of expertise does not necessarily build perceptual knowledge unless the exposure meets specific criteria.

With a sufficiently large set of diverse examples and immediate feedback, we can train our brains to find a deep, accurate pattern. Our brains begin to detect that which does not vary and gradually discover the deeper underlying patterns and structure.

To design a good perceptual exposure activity, we need to use a high quantity of high-quality examples that seem different on the surface but actually are not.

Good perceptual exposure exercises do not explain. Rather, they create a context that lets the learner’s brain “discover” the pattern.

We need to expose ourselves or our users to that high quantity of high-quality examples, with feedback and within a compressed time.

Perceptual Exposure exercises can fail if we designed it with some of the following flaws:

  • Not enough examples
  • Not enough diversity in the examples
  • Too long a gap between exposure and feedback
  • Attribute or pattern was too subtle for the brain to detect

Finally, we need to sure the Perceptual Exposure exercises do not expose our users to examples of bad by mixing them with the good.

Perceptual Exposure is a way for our brain to pick up the pattern it needs to learn. Adding the element of judgment (picking good or bad) will confuse our brains and slow down the pattern-recognition progress.

The best way to learn to spot “bad” is first by learning the underlying patterns of “good.” In other words, teach people to recognize bad/wrong/errors by developing and strengthening their recognition of good/right/correct.

Kathy Sierra on Making Users Awesome, Part 3

In the book, Badass: Making Users Awesome, Kathy Sierra analyzed and discussed the new ways of thinking about designing and sustaining successful products and services.

These are some of my takeaways from reading the book.

In this section, Kathy discusses the approaches for building skills.

The first common attribute across all domains in which people become experts is that those experts practice better. Experts practice more effectively than experienced non-experts using the same amount of practice time.

Most skill-building approaches involve going from [A] Can’t do (but need to) to [B] Can do with effort, to, finally, [C] Mastered (reliable/automatic). This approach alone is insufficient for three reasons.

First, this sequence shows only skills that move from [A] to [B] to [C]. Experts have some skills that can move from [A] directly [C].

Second, experts never have an empty [A] list. They are adding new or refining existing skills all the time.

Finally, experts move skills from [B] to [C] but sometimes must also move skills backward from [C] to [B]. Unconscious/automated skills in [C] are often the cause of “intermediate blues.” Also, skills not de-automated, even when used regularly, will still deteriorate.

When experts practice more effectively, it means they do Deliberate Practice. The Deliberate Practice method means taking a skill and move it through the [A][B][C] stages swiftly.

Most of us try to practice too many things simultaneously instead of nailing one thing at a time. When we have too many skills that are stuck in the [B] stage and with very few skills in [C], we severely limit our skill-building effectiveness.

The goal of deliberate practice should be to design practice exercises that will take a fine-grained task from unreliable to 95% reliability, within one to three 45-90-minute sessions. If we cannot get to 95% reliability, we should stop trying. Either change the exercise or redesign the sub-skill.

Projects and tutorials are not deliberate practice. Projects are an excellent learning tool, but they are more about discovery and problem-solving than a reliable skill-building method.

Tutorials can give us a good feel for the skill we are learning and provide more context. Tutorials are valuable, but they are not the reliable skill-building method of Deliberate Practice.