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The User's Journey


Lord of the Rings. Starwars. NeverWhere.

A beer commercial. Linux. College.

Viagra ads. Learning Java. Starting a business.

What do they all have in common?

Things are normal. Things become challenging. Thanks to the help of friends and perhaps a mentor/wizard, you're able to overcome the challenges. You return to the new and improved normal. A hero.

What would happen if developers/marketers/teachers tried to help users experience a kind of a hero's journey, and offered a way to help them through each stage? Unfortunately, too many products or services don't give the user a chance to get past the initial crises ("Help! I can't make your product work!"), and the user never ends up... a hero. They end up failing. Quitting. The "I Suck" experience instead of "I Rule!" And since users are increasingly less likely to take all the blame, your company or product is Sauron. Sure, the user was defeated... but only because Your Company Is Evil. As a developer of learning experiences, I desperately don't want to be the enemy. (I always fancied the trickster role though...)

The opposite (and sometimes just as bad) experience is where your product or service offers nothing interesting or challenging, or it doesn't try to at least inspire the user to do something interesting or challenging with it. No Challenge = No Hero.

One of the most powerful aspects of the Hero's Journey is that the hero comes out the other side better than he was before. (Or as Michael puts it... bigger.) Are you supplying a reasonable challenge, and then offering a way to move through the stages of that challenge and ultimately come out changed for the better?

Obviously not all products and services are--or need to be--particularly inspiring and challenging. I'm thinking toilet paper doesn't need to, um, take me on a journey. But... that doesn't mean there isn't a way for a company with an utterly (and ideally) unchallenging product to be associated with something meaningful. Something that upgrades the lives of their users.

The user's journey doesn't have to be about the product. It can be about something related to the ingredients in the product, or the design, or the company, or the employees, or causes supported by the company or...

If your product or service is daunting for users, or what they do with the product or service is challenging, you can welcome that as a great opportunity to give users the "I Rule!" experience. It means you'll have a much easier time taking them on a little hero's journey. If your product or service (or what users might do with it) is not challenging, then you can still ask, "What can I do to inspire our users to take on a new challenge?", and then somehow craft a challenge (suggestion: teaching your users something cool and rewarding is often an easy answer).

So, what are you doing to help your users on a hero's journey? What can you do to associate what you do/make/sell/write/build with a hero's journey? What can you do to help your user through the "I Suck" phase and into the "I Rule!" phase?

Posted by Kathy on February 15, 2005 | Permalink


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» The User as Hero (sound of applause) from RatcliffeBrowse
UXCentric: The User as Hero: There's a wonderful and important post by Kathy Sierra at Creating Passionate Users that you won't want to miss. In The User's Journey, Kathy asks, "What would happen if developers/marketers/teachers tried to help users... [Read More]

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Just wanted to write a short note saying that I really, really like your blog. It almost always gives me something to think about. I've always been interested in usability and have through the years strongly supported simplicity, but it often feels like I'm fighting a loosing battle.

The people I've been working with often feel a need for complexity for some reason. This creates a big hurdle for newbies which makes the whole experience frustrating of course.

I'm at a loss on how to reach these people though. They just don't seem to get it.

Anyway, thanks for a great blog, I'm looking forward to reading it every day.


Posted by: Martin J Nilsson | Feb 16, 2005 12:57:45 AM

I think this is a very interesting way of looking at user experience. It also occurs to me that game development must have had this approach for many years -- games have to provide enough challenge to be engaging, enough reward to be hero-creating and enough play to be worth the money. Is there a potential source of perspective to be found in the game development world?

Posted by: Meri | Feb 16, 2005 4:33:15 AM

Also see http://tinyurl.com/3zrve.

Story Template (The four things needed to create a story. Once upon a time. Suddenly. Luckily. Happily ever after.)

Posted by: Justin | Feb 16, 2005 5:28:37 AM

Damn! This is utterly f_cking brilliant Kathy. This is what it's all about today. It's no longer just about how well the product performs. Or the tangible benefits it delivers. It's now also about how it impacts me and the care of my soul. As Hugh says, "the market for something to believe in is infinite."

Posted by: Michael Pollock | Feb 16, 2005 7:36:57 AM

This is amazing I am reading "The Hero with a Thousand Faces" right now and it is much the same.

Storytelling is a skill that has pretty much been lost and I am trying to learn it myself for my children's sake. I want to help them learn things and stories seem like the best way to do it.

Thanks for your site.

Posted by: Stephan F | Feb 16, 2005 10:22:16 AM

An upgrade path. I agree. I belive you want to offer your consumers a way "feel" something interesting or challenging vs. "do." I believe the product is an emotional driver and the psychological manifestations, the doing, come afterwards. I believe the human, daily life and emotional transition show up and the marketer, product and emotional warrior are there to help "transition" [overcome the bad stuff or elevate the good stuff]the emotion....which moves you to your emotional future and leds you to your next purchase. ...and so on and so on.

A little girl walked downstairs one morning to start on her blog and she was wearing a brain surgeon's outfit and her mother said, "Kathy why are you wearing a brain surgeon's outfit?" And she said, "Mommy, all brain surgeons are heros!" And her mom said, "Kathy, I read your blog yesterday and you taught thousands of people new ways to look at the world, you are a hero to me." So Kathy went on with her day. The next morning Kathy came downstairs dressed as a queen. And, her mother asked her, "Kathy why are you dressed as a queen?" And, Kathy answered, "Because Mommy, queens have all the power." And her mom said, "Kathy, power comes in many forms. You little heart has lots of power over me. I can't live one single day without you." And, then she hugged Kathy and she went on her way. Then next day Kathy came down dressed as a ...

The point is a hero "feels" different to everyone. "I rule" feels different to everyone. We need to also teach emotional transitions, emotional upgrade paths.

Kathy...your blog is inspirational. Thank you.

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