What a graphic can tell you
I love looking at things in a new way. More to the point, I love it when I see things about the world that I thought I knew... but then realize there's more to the story.
And for the past few years I've been doing various pieces of research into information visualization--the science and art of making complex information visually perceivable. It's cool, it's fun, and every so often you learn something really, really interesting.
I was just sort of doodling the other day in Powerpoint. (If you must know, I was trying to prepare a talk to give at some university, and I started wondering how many dots you could usefully squeeze onto a Powerpoint slide.)
Now that sounds crazy: doodling in Powerpoint? Yeah, I know. But come to think of it, why not? It's got a bunch of okay tools for drawing and while you probably won't make great art, it's fine for quick sketching. You won't confuse the output with a masterwork in oil or water color, but it's really great for a quick sketch. And it IS the tool I spend a lot of time using, so I've grown pretty accustomed to its idiosyncracies.
So I drew a bunch of dots. Then it hit me--if a dot stood for a day, what would my life look like as a set of dots on the screen?
(You can click on each image to see it full-size.)
If that's 20 years worth of days, then what would the rest of my life look like? Could I fit a lifetime's worth of days onto a Powerpoint slide?
And how would you think of your life in terms of segments? I fooled around some more and came up with this as a way of thinking about the various parts of my career.
I certainly hope that my life and career last more than 60 years! Nevertheless, I found this an intriguing way of looking at the progress of your life.
Or, to put it more pragmatically, where's your dot?
Question for you: What information graphic was most informative / influential / insightful for you? Was there a great piece of infoviz that really just did it for you?
Getting someone to decide
While Kathy’s away having way too much fun in one of the lands down-under, I thought I’d drop in and tell a quick story about a bit of research that should make a difference to you…
Decades ago people used to do deep and interesting social psych research. They’d set up strange and complex situations, then watch how people reacted. Some of these were scary-scary, but some were actually insightful in the day-to-day world as well.
What does this have to do with Creating Passionate Users? Let me tell you…
In 1965, back when the Beatles were singing “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” a few social psych folks did a compelling study about what makes people decide to do something.
First they showed a bunch of college students a film about the horrors of tetanus (Lockjaw! Seizures! Death!) that ended with the strong recommendation that everyone get a booster shot. They even told them where the student health center was. Careful testing showed that the students actually learned something AND that their long term attitudes about tetanus and the need to get a booster shot had really changed. This was great!
Then they watched to see how many went to the college health service to get the booster.
It was a total flop. Less than 3% actually went for the booster.
Then they gave exactly the same information in written form. Again, a graphic portrayal of what would happen to you if you didn’t get a booster shot.
And again, it was a flop. This time 3% showed up for the shot.
Sound familiar? That 3% number is roughly how many people RTFM for your great software and will actually use it to full capability.
But then they had a stroke of genius: What if they showed the movie AND gave the students a piece of paper with a map to the student health center with times you could show up for the booster. They also asked the students to DECIDE when to actually make it to the clinic.
Voila! Suddenly, the number of students that showed up for the booster jumped to 28% of those in the audience. And interestingly enough, it didn’t matter if the students saw the movie or read the paper version of the tetanus scare story.
What made the difference?
Two things seem to make the change…
First, they gave the students something to take-away from the meeting—a piece of paper with all the information they needed to act. The health center was clearly marked on the map with a big circle. Times for open appointments were on the page as well.
Second (and just as important), the students were asked to make a decision about when they would go to the clinic. They actually had to make a choice about when they’d show up for their booster shot.
So, what does this have to do with Creating Passionate Users?
You already know users need really clear direction. It also really, really helps if they have something to guide them in the completion of the task. A cheat sheet is great, especially if it’s in the language of the user and helps them satisfy a need they acknowledge. Keep them short and task-specific.
It also helps if your user has to make some kind of commitment. We’re not talking about a lifetime of togetherness, just something simple like working through a short but compelling tutorial that shows off exactly how great your system really is. You need some kind of engagement with the user to make the connection between the download and what your stuff can really do.
Here’s the bottom line: Be specific in your help and support. Be very clear. And get your users to decide to do something with your product. Don’t let it just lie there and go out of their attention—get your users engaged!
If you want to read more, you can try to find the original article in your university library. There’s no way this is going to be in your local public library. (And if it is, let me know. I want to move to your town, that’s a great library you’ve got there.)
Leventhal, H.R., Singer, P., and Jones, S. (1965)
Effects of fear and specificity of recommendation upon
attitudes and behaviour.
Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 2, pp 20-29.
What makes a popular blog?
The "Creating Passionate Users" blog is now in the Technorati Top 100. The big question is... why? We're not the brightest crayons in the box, or the best writers, and we rarely participate in A-Lister topics... so it's got to be something else. More importantly, are there lessons learned that can help someone else with their blog (or other content)? I have my own theories (one of them: this blog tries to practice what it preaches in making it far more about you than about us). The only way to make this top 100 thing useful to anyone is to reverse-engineer the blog and try to make some general principles others can apply (if they're interested in having a lot of readers).
So, there's a lot of brain power among y'all, and if you want to help one another (and me) out, then please please please take a moment to add a comment that answers the question: "What makes this blog popular that OTHERS MIGHT USE?" As much as I appreciate sucking up : ) what I do NOT want in this thread are compliments ("because this blog rocks!") The challenge is for you to come up with an answer in the form of a tip, suggestion, idea, recommendation for others--and without saying anything about me personally.
[To those of you who are just dying to add the snarky-but-uncreative "because blog readers are stupid" or "you must have had sex with an A-lister" kind of answer, don't bother. It's my blog, and I'll consider those unhelpful/off-topic. And besides, I'll just have my new Blog Bouncers Leisa Reichelt (design blog), Rick Turoczy (marketing blog), and James Sherrett (all-around good guy) toss you ; )]
What do you think? Based on anything you've experienced here, what advice would you give others? I'll provide my own speculation, but only after y'all have chimed in. Besides, you're the only ones who can really answer this question, and many of you are coming from very different perspectives.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you all for taking moments out of your day to read this blog. I consider your time and attention a gift, and I try to give something back by offering something you can use. The reason this blog is in the top 100 (for now, I'm sure it's only temporary) is because of you, and I never forget that.
(I'm heading out now for 24 straight hours of travel to Wellington, but I'll be checking this thread the moment I land. Thank you all in advance!)
Good usability is like "water flowing downhill"
"I prefer reactions in which the fabric of the organization is changed so that it's easier for people to do the "right" thing. Like water flowing downhill." Silkandspinach's Kevin Rutherford said that in a comment to David HH's post don't scar on the first cut, and I loved it on the spot.
I've talked about this many times before; my horse trainer's mantra is, "Make the right things easy and the wrong things hard"--but the opposite is everywhere. It's ridiculously easy for me to screw up the settings on my digital devices. The API methods that intuivitely feel right turn out to be dead wrong. I click the button I think will do X, and instead I get... WTF?
And sometimes, many times, those screw-ups are hard to undo. Sometimes, they're unrecoverable (or might as well be, since the documentation never seems to cover the most likely bad thing you'll do).
But while my earlier comments on this were mostly about usability, I hadn't thought of it as a management principle. (Works great with kids, too) Think about how many procedures we see in companies that feel like hacks... workarounds for a system that makes it too easy to make mistakes. And you see it from the highest levels of business right down to the duct tape someone put over the switch that you must NEVER EVER TURN OFF.
If those designing systems or software or houses or hardware or API's or policies or procedures or learning experiences or... if
they we would all keep the image of water flowing downhill at the front of our minds, it might make a big difference. It might remind us just how much more elegant things could be if we made the right things easy and the wrong things hard.
It works with pets, and it works with employees (not that I would ever imply that employees are ever treated like... dogs). It works with kids and customers. It works with nature. And that's the best model of all--to make the right things seem natural. If a user/learner/employee couldn't imagine doing something any way other than the right one, they won't have to waste so much time and mental bandwidth finding and fixing mistakes.
That's not to say that everything should be easy and natural. But the challenges should never be in the use of a thing. The challenges should be in doing whatever it is the thing lets you do. The challenges are what makes the activity engaging and, in many cases, worth it. But the tools you use to meet those challenges should get out of your way!
Playing the game should be challenging. The interface should be brainless.
Figuring out what simulations to run for your new business idea should be challenging. Making the spreadsheet do it should be simple.
Defining what your code should do should be challenging. Figuring out which API methods will give you that capability should be simple.
Figuring out which music I want to buy for my perfect late-night-coding playlist should be challenging. Buying it from iTunes should be dead simple (and it is).
So, thanks for that quote Kevin.
And while we're on quotes... our blog friend Rimantas sent me another fantastic one, this time by Zed Shaw:
"If I KMFU (Know My F*ing Users) they won't have to RTFM."
Seeking a volunteer...
I'm leaving tomorrow for Webstock in New Zealand. I'll be in an airplane for about 420 hours, and I'm booked up from the moment I arrive. So... I'm desperately seeking a volunteer to log-in as the blog admin and manage the comments (and trackback spam). My only other alternative is to turn on comment moderation and I don't want to do that. But there's a fair amount of comment spam and the occasional comment that just begs to be deleted.
Besides administering the comments/trackbacks, I'm also hoping this person--or someone else--will respond to blog comment threads, if needed (or to do a better job of that than I'm donig at the moment).
You'll be rewarded with karma points (always good when you need that parking space at the airport), and your choice of our HF books (or our SCJP cert book). And my undying gratitude. It needs to be someone who knows this blog well, and you can't be anonymous : )
This will last for about two weeks, although I'll be on some of that time.
And after I return, I'll be heading right out again for the Gnome conference in Spain.
If you're interested, please send me an email:
headrush [at] wickedlysmart [dot] com
Think of the kittens.
If Tech Companies Made Sudoku
Sudoku is perfect. It can be as engaging, addictive, and flow-inducing as the flashiest real-time rendered, explosion-filled game on the planet. But I can't help imagine what would happen if someone like, say, Microsoft had designed it. Or rather, if some developers (leaf-nodes) at Microsoft designed it--perfectly--and then upper management stepped in...
I'm just having a little fun with Microsoft ; )
(they're an easy target), but it's not just MS that might do something like this:
We've reviewed the design doc for your new game code-named Sudoku, and we're giving you the green light to build the alpha. We've made just a few revisions to the spec (see attached annotated picture).
Marketing is still working up some final names (the target market would have trouble spelling and pronouncing Sudoku), but the top two candidates are:
Grid Masters IV (we know this is the first version, but the "IV" gives it some punch)
DeathNum Continuum, Special Edition (the VP loves this one)
Frankly, we're a little baffled that your original design was so... simple. I'm sure we all recognize that our target market demands a much more media-rich, interactive, high-action experience. Love the whole grid thing, though.
[Bonus link: Microsoft designs the iPod packaging]
What if managers had to do tech support?
Years ago, Bert Bates worked at a software company where 95% of the 100+ employees had to spend time doing everything. Tech support. Customer training. Visiting clients and helping with installation and customization. Think about that.
How would a business change if...
Marketing had to spend two weeks in tech support.
Engineers had to spend two weeks doing customer training.
Managers had to spend two weeks doing testing.
Executives had to spend two weeks doing customer service.
Documentation writers had to spend two weeks teaching classes using only the manuals they'd created.
Accounting had to go on a 10-cities-in-14-days business trip and fill out their expense reports accurately, on time, and without a single missing receipt.
Sales people had to spend two weeks in a programming course.
Existing customers had to approve your marketing and advertising.
Clients attended your staff meetings.
And my personal favorite...
What if tech support and customer service reps were treated like the top sales people? What if they were sent on all-expense-paid trips based on how many customer complaints they fixed?
It's common in many industries (hospitality especially) to put everyone through cross-training that includes direct customer contact. In software development, it's rare. And according to Bert, the difference it made to that company was profound.
I've told the story before that I once attended an all-hands department meeting at Sun and asked the group of 100 to raise their hands if they'd spoken with a real customer in the last 12 months. The number of hands not raised was shocking, especially since a customer training facility was in the same building, and dozens of customers were on-site virtually every day. I don't blame the employees... I blame the upper management of that department for having a culture that saw customers as line items on a defects-per-million Six Sigma chart. For having a culture that made it easy to not think of customers as actual humans with names and needs.
[Note: The company Bert refers to was originally named Columbine, and developed broadcast scheduling software used in radio and television stations. They were eventually bought, and Bert has no idea what they're called--or doing--today.]
Can you think of any other "what if..." things that might apply to the tech industry?
Personally, I've had the occasional manager I thought could seriously use some time in janitorial... ; )
Out-spend vs. out-inspire the competition
What can you do if you have a tiny marketing budget? The main message on this blog is that if you can't out-spend, you can out-teach. But another way to look at this is to out-inspire the competition. He who helps his users do more--reach more--engage more (I'm trying really hard to avoid saying, "kick ass"), might have the advantage.
[Disclaimer: I'm not saying the "traditional" column is wrong (or that they can't be inspirational). But there are plenty of things that cost less (or virtually no) money, and can carry more inspirational, long-term, passionate weight.]
So, what can you do to inspire your users? As a user, who has inspired you?
"User must do something cool in 30 minutes"
They can make anyone believe they can do a 10k, no matter if you've never run 100 meters in your life. But... it's not fantasy; they do everything they can to get you into a club, group, seminar series, etc. to make it a reality. Last year, they convinced 50,000 people they could do this. That's in a town of 100,000!
Customers become community become designers become motivated to do their own start-up.
(Their website alone does a great job of inspiring people to get involved)
How to get started taking kick-ass photos with your Nikon
A fabulous example of helping your users kick ass. BUT... it only barely makes up for the horrible user manuals. I spent $1700 on my Nikon, and the manual didn't even pretend to care whether I ever used the camera as anything but a really expensive point-and-shoot.
Popularity Breeds Contempt
Last year I talked about The Koolaid Point -- the point at which enough users become passionate that others accuse them of "drinking the koolaid." I offered no ideas for what to do when it happens other than "celebrate" and--the focus of yesterday's post--be brave. Don't give in was my main point then. But there is something else we can do when detractors start criticizing our users. Something so simple I was too thick to see it.
The tricky part is that the criticisms aren't always wrong. It really might be all hype. It might be BS. It might be just a fad, or the same s*** with a new name. But things are rarely that black and white. Where there is passion (not just fad or fashion), there is something real there. Something that some people see and feel. But the key point to keep in mind--and the one that offers a simple solution--is this:
People will sometimes diss things they know very little about.
They'll diss things they haven't tried.
They'll diss things based on sketchy, incorrect information--or the equivalent of urban-legend data ("My sister's friend's brother's girlfriend tried it and it was a disaster...")
Most importantly, the things people diss most passionately are often the things that challenge beliefs or ideas they're heavily invested in. They'll diss things because embracing those things might force them to re-examine thoughts and assumptions they care about, or because those things represent a change they don't want to make. And yes, sometimes they diss things simply because they are jealous, although most of us tend to dismiss critics as "just jealous" way more than we should. [Note to critics: snarky slams are far more likely to get written off as "jealousy" than specific, less emotional critiques.]
How do you deal with this challenge? The challenge faced, for example, by Seth Roberts, whose Shanri-la diet I've helped hype. The challenge our books have faced, where one prominent tech book author said--to my face--that the only reason my books were selling was because all the smart programmers had already learned it somewhere else. The challenge faced by Pat Parelli, whose "Parelli Natural Horsemanship" program drives intensely polarized fights in forums, where followers (or non-followers) are often outcasts at their stable, and where a Google search on parelli+cult returns over 1,000 hits.
So, I asked the guy who knows a whole lot about it--Pat Parelli. "What do you when your users are accused of being card-carrying, koolaid-drinking, Parelli cult members?"
He offers two simple suggestions we can use:
1) "Give users the tools to represent what you do accurately." (He gives his users a free-for-the-asking DVD that clearly demonstrates what the program is about.) "Don't expect--or ask--your users to defend you."
But the most important one--the simple 'doh-slapping-the-forehead' one for me--was this:
2) Ask the critics, "How long did you try it before you came to these conclusions? Because the feedback is really important to us."
With the Shangri-la diet, it was obvious how many people were slamming it without having read all of his research (or tried it themselves). With our books, we found early on that the strongest critics were those who had never actually tried to learn something from one of them--they'd never experienced it as a target-audience reader/learner would. With Parelli, 95% of their harshest critics have never actually tried it. Or perhaps someone has tried something, but in the wrong context--not in the way it's meant and designed to be used!
This "how long did you try it?" question will be met with, "I don't need to try something to know it's wrong." And for a ton of things, that's true. But as a sweeping statement, it doesn't hold up for most of the koolaid point, because until you've tried something or at least gotten all the facts, you cannot fully understand what others have found so compelling or practical or effective or engaging or productive or delightful or...
And I'm just as likely to be a koolaid accuser as koolaid drinker. I have never golfed, for example, and I cannot imagine why anyone would spend that kind of money and time hitting a stupid little ball with a ridiculously expensive stick on grass that in Colorado costs a fortune in natural resources (water, in most cases) to keep green. To which my co-author Bert says, "You just don't get it." ; )
Don't give in to feature demands!
The more successful the product or service is, the stronger the pressure to give in to user requests. The more users you have, the more diverse the requests. One user's must-have-or-else feature is another user's deal-killer. And the more popular your product or service is, the more those requests start turning into demands and ultimatums, and finally very harsh criticisms.
The worst thing we can do is give in. But as the requests/demands and criticisms become louder and angrier, the harder it is to resist the siren call-- "But if we just added this one thing... these guys would ease up."
But when we've blended all the colors into one muddy blob, then nobody hates us, and nobody is delighted, excited, or turned on by what we do. We become mediocre. Usually the worst place to be.
But we can't just ignore the suggestions, requests, and criticism. So how do we filter the useful feedback from the crap? How do we know who we should listen to?
Let's say that most of the people who might make feature requests or demands fall into one of these categories:
1) The Active Haters
Those who hate you no matter what you do. The more popular you become, the louder they become.
2) The Extreme Critic
Those for whom "hate" is too strong a word, but they have a mile-long list of things you're doing wrong.
3) The Against-My-Will User
Those who are forced to use your product or service, but aren't happy about it. Maybe you're the only one in your category, or their employer or client made the decision--whatever the reason, they don't like it.
4) The Previously Satisfied, Now Overwhelmed User
Those who were satisfied once, but have now become unhappy because of updates and changes in the product. They just want to go back to the way things were! They could not care less how much more productive/creative/stimulated they could be if they embraced the changes. They worked hard to cross the "suck threshold", and they don't want to go back.
5) The Previously Satisfied, Now Impatient User
These folks are unhappy for the opposite reason as the Now Overwhelmed User. They're pissed off that your updates and changes haven't kept up with their requests which have recently turned into demands. They're the most likely to go elsewhere without much warning, because they feel they've outgrown you or that you just don't care. [Or just don't care about them.]
6) The Previously Passionate, Now Pissed Off User
Ahhhh... the most interesting users of all. They were your biggest fans, but You Just Wouldn't Listen to them and now they're threatening to go elsewhere, passionately, but they're giving you plenty of notice. They want to regain that spark they once felt, but the original bond only goes so far.
7) The Still Satisfied User
Whether they're too new to know what else they might want, or you've simply met all their expectations and requirements, these users are humming along without problems.
8) The Still Passionate User
Our favorites. They're thrilled with what your product or service lets them do. But... this doesn't mean they don't have requests. They can be passionate without necessarily being satisfied, but they'll do everything they can to help you improve. The trouble is, we're back to the same problem... one passionate user's idea of Useful Improvement is another's Worst Mistake You Could Make Ever.
9) The Uncaring User
They just don't think about your product or service. They use it, but if something else came along that did the same thing, they might not even notice the difference.
10) Marketing (and sales)
They ask for things based on research (often dubious), or their own feeling/judgement about what people want, or perhaps based on feedback from sales people, etc.
11) Engineers/Developers/Producers with little or no user contact
They may want to put in "this really cool thing we could do", regardless of whether anyone has asked for it. This could be the classic "solution in search of a problem."
12) Engineers/Developers/Producers in close contact with users
These are the folks that interact with the customer/clients/users on a regular basis, usually prior to and during development, with less contact after the thing is done.
13) Customer Service / Tech Support
Those on the front line! The ones who are in the closest contact with users.
[I've probably left out some crucial category, so help me out here.]
Now the big question is, who do we listen to?
I'd love for you to add your advice, but here's a rough cut of one way to think about it:
* The Haters
The Haters are too irrational about you to offer any criticism you can trust. They might have valid feedback, but if it's valid you'll hear the same feedback from other less-hateful users.
* The Uncaring
* Marketing (couldn't resist)
KEEP ONE EAR OPEN:
But only for new ideas, not for specific requests and criticisms (again, if a criticism or request is really valid -- you'll hear about it from many others)
* The Extreme Critic
* The Against-My-Will user
* Engineers/developers with little or no user contact
Just because you can do something "really cool", doesn't mean you should.
...but resist the pressure to give in until you've considered all the long-term implications to all the OTHER user groups:
* Previously Satisfied, Now Overwhelmed
I think we're often better off trying to train them -- to help them get up to speed on the new stuff without having to suck again.
* Still Satisfied
Their suggestions aren't coming from real motivation, but they might have a good idea...
(Unless you really REALLY know and trust that your marketing people deeply understand both the product and the users. Too often, they just want to make something more "sellable", regardless of the big picture.)
* Still Passionate
These are often the most difficult to resist! But they may ask for things that nobody needs, just because--like engineering--it would be cool.
That still doesn't mean you'll give in, but feedback from these users should be given a lot of weight.
* Previously Satisfied, Now Impatient
These are the people who are on the verge of becoming passionate users, if you can keep up with them! One problem is that they may want to push you into territory that is out of your niche, and if you please them by adding advanced features, you have to make sure you don't create new "Now Overwhelmed" users as a result.
But anytime we can add advanced features without hurting the low-lever users (who may stay that way forever once they have the basics down), we should consider it. If we want users to be passionate, we have to give them new challenges--new ways to learn and grow and apply their new skills and knowledge.
Another option is to create a separate more advanced product -- like Apple's three different music apps (when you outgrow GarageBand you go to Logic Express. When you outgrow Logic Express, you go to Logic, etc.)
* The Previously Passionate, Now Pissed Off User
It took a LOT to piss them off, because they've been extra forgiving and willing to overlook your faults, but only to a point. They know your product better than anyone else. One problem with these guys is that they tend to be so advanced that they don't necessarily reflect your average user. If you can find a way to work with them (and they desperately WANT you to succeed and win them back), and perhaps compromise, they'll be your biggest champions again. At the very least, we should tell them that we've listened carefully, and here's why we're having trouble adding or changing this thing... they might even have an answer we hadn't thought of. And at least we've given them the respect they deserve.
* Engineering/Developers in close contact with users
They're close to the product, they understand how it's being used. Best of all, they might know the best 80/20 way (most bang for the development buck?) to do the smallest thing that'll have a positive impact. They are the best source of ideas for compromise without hurting existing capabilities. (But I've spent enough time as a member of this group to know that we can't help ourselves from "adding this one cool thing" that we know "will take no time at all." So challenge our assumptions.)
PAY THEM FOR THEIR FEEDBACK:
* Customer service / tech support
Nobody knows where the pain is the way the front line does, and they can probably get very specific about the exact source of that pain, which lets you do a more surgical fix rather than a sweeping change. But one question... why--in so many companies--are these the people who often get the least amount of respect and voice about this?
The one user category I didn't mention. In the end, we have to trust ourselves. This is a controversial position--we're not supposed to be building things for us... it's not about us. But that doesn't mean we aren't the ones who can make the best overall decisions. We're the ONLY ones who get all the feedback and can think through the long-term implications, and can see how pleasing one user group might piss off another group, so which group do we choose?
If you have a product or service or cause where you "eat your own dog food", then you're in at least as good a position as any user to know what's broken and what will break if you listen to this request.
So, we have to listen but resist. The overwhelming pull of that right (hate) side slides you closer and closer to the middle. Those who hate it will hate it until you've neutered it into submission and taken away the magic some once loved.
Be brave ; )