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 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.

A Potential Service Desk 1.5 Scenario

A couple of blog posts discussing the future of Service Desk (or Service Desk 2.0) caught my eyes last week. I mentioned them in my weekly Fresh Links Sundae post as well. I liked the various points of view presented, and it got me thinking. Well, I guess I probably will not know what a Service Desk (SD) 2.0 looks like until it is right in front of me. The notion still sounds like a bit far down the road for me. Frankly, I am more interested in what we in IT can do to improve the Service Desk function today (5 Questions You Should Ask Your Service Desk Team).  Many SD teams have endured an average reputation that in part, I think, was self-inflicted and in part was just victim of circumstance. Since there is no way to turn back so why not keep moving forward and improving.

I think it would be very cool for a typical Service Desk to do a lot more than what it is doing today. I like to envision a state where the Service Desk is the focal point of IT services provisioning, communication, and support.  The Service Desk is the team that makes interacting with IT a solid experience all around. They are also the team that makes people feel productive when utilizing corporate-provided information technologies. Moreover, they can be the team that represents the gateway to the best of what IT can do for its constituents. Call it Service Desk 1.5 or whatever. I have presented a possible scenario using a pretty common Service Desk interaction these days.

Scenario: End User to IT – Computer and Mobile Device Provisioning for a New Hire

If your organization is already doing that, congratulations. Moving forward, I think many Service Desk teams can and should do more to plot what they can leverage to improve the customer’s experience. A few ideas on the table are:

  • The team should make building a solid working relationship with its customer base is a key success factor. It is the same for any service organization. The team also knows that it cannot be great at everything, so it should try to understand what its customers value the most and least. The team will use the feedback and prioritize what they do – over-deliver on the stuff its customers care the most and maintain, or even phase out, the stuff its customers care the least.
  • In addition to better understand their constituents, the Service Desk needs to empower its customers to be more productive with the IT resources they have access to.  One example is the self-service feature. The more end-users can do for themselves, the better off everyone will be. Self-service does not mean Service Desk will become a faceless entity. Self-service takes care of the simpler, more routine stuff and leaves the Service Desk team to tackle the stuff that are better handled with more interpersonal interactions.
  • To support self-service and to promote productivity, the SD team should know what information the end users will find most helpful and how to make that information available with the least fuss. It is also important where every interaction the SD team has with the customers to be as transparent and predictable as possible. The customers should know what boundaries everyone is working with, what to expect, and stay sufficiently informed every step of the way. The SD team will also make the support information, and themselves, accessible and easy to find. A well-designed knowledge capturing and dissemination mechanism can only help.

To get better at what they do, the Service Desk cannot do it alone. They will need some help from IT and the organization. For example:

  • A number of these monitoring and follow-up activities can be labor intensive but can also be automated to a large degree. In addition, self-service feature is only meaningful if it is supported by a well-design automation that actually improves the overall experience.
  • Web 2.0 and social media technologies have greatly enabled what Seth Godin called the “Spout and Scout” interaction. The members on the Service Desk team likely have experienced this interaction themselves and use it on the daily basis. Perhaps the team can leverage the same interaction model and get closer to what their customers are doing? Unlike what the Facebook or LinkedIn needed to do in order to get people signing up and coughing up their personal information, the Service Desk already has a pretty good idea of who their customers are, where they are located, what they do, and what IT asset/resources they have access to. The customer census and the social media technologies are certainly two things the Service Desk can leverage and do more with.

Are those realistic and actionable scenarios? I think so. Given how many Service Desks are staffed, organized, and equipped these days, achieving those end states can be a formidable undertaking. Service Desks have always existed with the noble intention to help the IT customers, yet mandy SD teams I had worked really did not get the support they could use to be successful. One reason maybe that many SD teams have been stuck in this reactive question-and-answer mode of operation. We look the end-user Q&A and password reset activities as the necessary evil, stuff we have to do. As a result, many Service Desks also have a tough time justifying its importance and budget priority when competing with other IT functions.

Good service costs money and time. In most organizations, the Service Desk budget rarely looks like the uptrend curve of a growth stock. Diverting effort and fund to do what would help the customers the most will take some difficult choices. Streamlining the Service Desk’s internal working mechanism and simplifying how the Service Desk interact with its customers can also help in freeing up the needed resources. I think it is the time for many SD teams to get a crystal clear picture of what the organization and its customer base really care about. Do less of being all things to all people and do more of delighting its customers along the way.

Links to other posts of the series