« The hi-res user experience | Main | If pets could design user experiences... »

2006 hopes/predictions EQ

It's that time... so here are some unscientific thoughts for '06: what we hope will happen, and what we think will happen. We represented these as EQ's (thanks to livingcode's interactive sliders), and this is only about our little corner of the tech world, not the WHOLE world.

What we HOPE for:


We believe that optimism can produce positive change. If you don't believe something can happen, why bother? Many of the biggest innovations over the last century were from The Crazy Ones who "thought different" and pushed forward against all odds. If they'd given in to pessimism, cynicism, and doubt (all of which were perhaps a lot more realistic) it would have been our loss.

Etched in stone over the entrance to a math building at UCLA is one of my favorite quotes, from mathematician Michael Farraday:

"Nothing is too wonderful to be true..."

My hope is that--especially online--people spend a little more time debating issues and a little less time falling into personal attacks, and especially when it's in the name of "frank truthfulness." The Dalai Lama is known for being direct, and has plenty of reasons to be pretty damn pissed... but he still manages to provide a lesson to us all on the power of optimism and not giving in to the kind of anger that leads to self-righteous cruelty toward others. Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Han, who also teaches the value of using "compassionate speech" sends the same message.

Not that most of us will ever be a Zen Master, but I hope more people (including myself) can learn from their message that giving in to anger prevents listening. I hope that in '06, more people will realize that you can be honest without being mean OR politically correct. And to those who say you can't have a thriving, diverse, productive community based around being nice, I have a half-million data points to prove them wrong. (That's the number of unique visitors javaranch gets a month, despite its near-militant enforcement of a "be friendly, be nice" policy.)

The condition psychologists call optimal experience or, the flow state, changes lives for the better. Scientific studies have linked the flow state to happiness, and one of the most delightful things for me about '05 was to hear something we (game developers) have been saying for years finally make it into mainstream geek conversations. I was thrilled to hear Merlin Mann and Danny O'Brien mention "flow" in their fabulous ETech Life Hacks Live talk. The whole Getting Things Done movement (based around David Allen's book) is--at its core--all about spending more time in flow.

More and more products and services are starting to really get that, from the "get the hell out of your way so you can do what you REALLY want to do" model captured by the 37signals folks, to the growing movement to ditch your TV. I think more and more developers and service providers will make "enabling more flow" a big focus (and yes, potentially a big strategic advantage), and this goes to all aspects of a person's life--from work to play. (In fact, when one is able to do WORK in flow, the hard line between work and play starts to dissolve...)

Aesthetics matter, and as more and more young people are being raised with a heightened visual/graphic sensibility, it becomes increasingly more important that we focus on products that don't just work well, but do it with style. Attractive things even work better (or at least we perceive it that way, which may be just as valuable).

I wrote about this in my previous post about the hi-resolution user experience, and I'll be posting my "crash course in learning theory" within the week, so I won't say much here. The key point is that spending more time in flow means that we have the knowledge and skill to meet a continuing (and worthwhile) challenge, and increasing knowledge and skill requires learning. This may not be formal learning (as Jan Sabbe pointed out in a comment) but even discovery is still a form of improvement and growth, which I equate with learning. The more we help our users learn--through any means (formal training, better docs, a product that encourages discovery and deeper engagement, an experience that seduces the user into wanting to practice)--the more time they can spend in flow. And ultimately, the more likely it is that they will become passionate about whatever it is they're doing.

I hope to see more blogs (when appropriate) move in the direction of helping users learn. In other words, I hope to see more teaching blogs (or websites, etc.) rather than compay blogs used solely for announcements. One of my favorite examples of this new kind of "learning blog" is the new one from my horse coach/whisperer, cowboy Darren Wetherill. (Side note, Darren's Horse Bliss blog was mentioned by Hugh of Gaping Void, and the next thing you know, Horse Bliss was mentioned by Businessweek online as an example of what a business blog could be.

I'd love to see less "painting with broad brushes" and more consideration of context and subtlety. In other words, fewer statements like, "anyone with any religious or spiritual belief of any kind is by definition an idiot, or delusional." (A statement I saw online recently.) Or the one I've seen leveled against this blog occasionally-- "All marketing--or any thought or discussion of marketing--of any kind is inherently evil." I refuse to believe that anything good can be accomplished by reducing everything to black and white. I certainly don't believe that the opposite of those statements is true either. For example, saying, "NO marketing is evil" is just as absurd, and just as likely to shut down any chance of discussion about how to make things better. Granted, there are some things for which many of us believe there is not any value in seeing the grey (like, say, murder), but too many things today are being stated in absolutes.

Of course, I'm very guilty of this myself, but I'm also trying hard to recognize subtle distinctions, and fortunately--readers here are the first ones to point out all the generalizations I've made, and where my "story" doesn't hold up. One beauty of blogs is that you can take one perspective on one week, and come at the same topic from a different angle the following week...

Most of you already know our mantra on this -- "Users don't care about YOU--they care about themselves in relation to what you offer." It's simply not about you. My co-authors and I believe--quite literally--that our "secret sauce" for why our books have been so successful is because we work very hard to take our ego out of the books. We are not 100% successful (we're human), but it is our number one priority to try. (One of the ways this shows up is in the number of topics we choose to leave OUT. Our job is to help you learn, not show you how smart we are.)

We believe that if we write these with the intention of what readers will think about us, then we probably aren't doing the learner any favors. We do not write so that people will say, "Wow, these authors sure know their stuff." We want people to say, "Wow, I know Design Patterns now." We did a very detailed analysis of several hundred Amazon reviews of our books against our closest competitors, and discovered dramatic differences in the language used in the reviews. The most important benchmark we were looking for is that our readers would use first-person language. In other words, we want our readers to talk less about us, and more about themselves. We are delighted if someone says, "these guys are really tacky and could seriously use some writing skills, but I actually LEARNED something."

It's often a conflict of interest to write a book (or blog) meant to teach or inspire, with the goal of furthering your own reputation. What's good for your reputation (i.e. demonstrating your deep command of the topic) may be dead wrong for the readers. And this is true for just about anything--are people listening to music to be impressed with the artist, or for how the music makes them feel? Are they eating at a restaurant to be impressed with the chef, or because of how the experience of eating there makes them feel? Are they buying a Mac to be impressed with Apple, or because of how it feels for them to use their Mac?

This doesn't mean that users won't be impressed, but this is about the orientation you have when you are developing or communicating about your product or service. How you THINK about what you are creating matters deeply. Nobody wants to hear about whether we kick ass, they want to know how we're going to help them kick ass. We ask our authors to imagine individual readers out there with post-it notes stuck to their head that say, "But what does this mean to ME?"

Stories speak to our souls, and they are the way we communicated knowledge and wisdom for thousands and thousands of years. Our brains are hard-wired to respond to (and learn from)stories. Stories can change the world, one neuron at a time. For inspiration on the nature of stories, read Julie Leung, and for a technical look at developing story, read Robert McKee's Story book.

So, that's our wish for the new year.

What we THINK will happen:


What are your hopes and predictions for '06?

Cheers, and happy New Year from me and my co-horts. Here's to a more passionate year for all of us : )

Posted by Kathy on January 2, 2006 | Permalink


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference 2006 hopes/predictions EQ:

» Hopes and predictions for 2006 from Tailwinds
Wonderful post for the new year, from Kathy Sierra on the Creating Passionate Users blog ... Great advice that I’ve already taken to heart. I sure hope this will qualify as a teaching blog that contributes to realizing all of these hopes. [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 2, 2006 10:45:24 PM

» Where Will You Go This Year? from Strategy Central
Do you know where you'll go this year? What about who you'll be at the end of the year? A bad attitude yesterday afternoon coupled with looking at a journal notation from July '05 made me realize that I'm still [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 3, 2006 3:45:36 PM

» Why I Blog and Why I Am Not Podcasting from A Teacher's Life
I've been thinking this weekend about why I've started blogging more and podcasting less. And I thought I'd post my reasons here. First and foremost... I started out keeping a [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 8, 2006 3:46:25 PM

» The Death of Civility from I Speak of Dreams
Ed Cone wrote, In Thanks for Reading, People just don’t know how to act in public anymore. [snip] The sense of what is appropriate behavior – the sense that there is such a thing as appropriate behavior – is diminishing [Read More]

Tracked on Jan 17, 2006 6:51:03 PM


The concept of flows sounded strangely familiar, so a quick dive into my bookcase found this paragraph:

"The types of activities which people all over the world consistently report as most rewarding - that is, which makes them feel best - involve a clear objective, a need for concentration so intense that no attention is left over, a lack of interruptions and distractions, clear and immediate feedback on progress toward the objective, and a sense of challenge - the perception that one's skills are adequate, but just adequate, to cope with the task at hand.

When people find themselves in these conditions they lost their self consciousness and sense of time. They report that the task itself becomes the end rather than the means to something more satisfying, like money or prestige. Indeed, and very conveniently for us, Csikzentmihalyi reports that people experiencing these conditions are in a highly satisfying psychological state of flow."

This in a book describing the Toyota Production System. There's a whole chapter on "flow" in there and some illustrations and guidance/steps on how to engineer it in an end-to-end "Value Stream" process - Chapter 3 of "Lean Thinking" by Womack and Jones. Chapter 13 goes on to describe "Dreaming about perfection" - with the second to last subtitle saying "The Power of Dreams". That's the theme of Honda's advertising this side of the pond...

I might be loopy, but there seem to be a lot of parallels with Deming inspired "lean thinking" here...

Ian W.
Simplicity Sells!

Posted by: Ian Waring | Jan 2, 2006 1:28:28 PM

Just to reinforce your idea that nothing is every black and white, even your murder example takes on shades of grey when considered in the context of domestic violence. While I'm not a big fan of "twinkie" type defences, there are certainly instances where there can be extenuating circumstances that justify even this most 'obvious' black and white example

Posted by: Bruce Johnson | Jan 2, 2006 5:37:47 PM

Oh god, less ego in the world would be so nice. I'm a student, so I read a lot of books and handouts the last couple of years. They are all about interesting topics. Genetic programming is cool, parallel computing, ray-tracing, artificial neural networks. That is just really cool stuff. Yet the books I had to read on them were so boring. Take an interesting topic, give it to an interested student, yet still put him to sleep. It is actually a pretty amazing thing to do.

The biggest problem is not necessarily that the writers had no idea how to write. The problem was that they are afraid to hurt their reputation. "I'm a professional. I should be serious, and make sure my presentations and texts are without emotion or passion. What would people think of me if I did?"

I'm betting that they are tempted to put in colorful diagrams, geeky jokes, and generally put some passion in their texts. Then the whole ego thing kicks in, saying "don't do it, people wouldn't take you serious. It should be professional! (meaning no fun at all)".

So I hope there will be less ego in 2006, less professionalism, and less care about what others might think about you.

Posted by: Jan Sabbe | Jan 2, 2006 5:54:28 PM

Off-topic, but this place is warm cocoa for my soul. :)

Posted by: Rabbit | Jan 2, 2006 8:46:15 PM

Hear, hear. Love to hear hopes that are about the warm fuzzies of a higher quality life than just making a million or getting that Jag. More optimism, more flow, more learning are all great generative building blocks that help build even better things.

Here's to more hope for the future, and I second Rabbit, this place is warm cocoa for the soul for sure :)

Posted by: Alvin | Jan 3, 2006 2:11:43 AM

Very cool imaage! I love the slider idea! Thanks.


Posted by: Mark Howell | Jan 3, 2006 3:30:20 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.