Kathy Sierra took her theme of passionate users to the next level at SXSW Interactive. Specifically, Sierra posed this question: Why do people go in person to a presentation that's being blogged live, twittered, and videotaped? Why are we all here?
As it turns out, even the creators of interactive technologies have the need to be around other human beings - everyone in the room responded to Sierra's request to self-identify as either designers, coders, or money people. (Her best rule of thumb was for designers: "If you saw a man drowning and you could either save his life or photograph the event...how would you tag it in Flickr?")
Sierra identified two things that designers can do to acknowledge the reason that we're all here when we don't need to be:
- Help our users get together with one another offline. Wherever there's passion, people will get together face-to-face. And the more offline interaction people have, the more their passion will grow. Designers need to encourage offline community proactively. For example, start or help user groups on Meetup.com. (Disclosure note: Omidyar Network is an investor in Meetup.)
- Make our applications more human. Think about it: What can humans
do with another human but not with a computer? (1) Look confused, and
(2) ask questions. This is why students can learn more in a classroom
than from a book.
Even if a tool is generally easy to use, it doesn't necessarily mean that the user's task is easy. And your user isn't be passionate about his tool, he's passionate about whatever it is he is using the tool to do. As Sierra stated, "Nobody's passionate when they suck." Users hate when they are made to feel like idiots. She who gets her users past the 'suck threshold' first will win in a competitive envronment.
Users need a 'WTF?' button, not FAQs and online help. FAQs assume that you're feeling competent and are contentedly doing research - not that you are feeling the panic of something not working. Here's what Sierra sees as the goal of using WTFs instead of FAQs:
- Get user to the right context ASAP. Asking good questions is
better than context-sensitive help; users only care about how the tool
relates to the actual task at hand.
- Give the user an understandable set of questions. Don't assume conceptual or contextual knowledge. They key to passionate users is simply in helping them learn.
Sierra portrayed most applications as having Asperger's syndrome, and incapable of normal personal interaction. Designers need to instead give the user a way to express herself to the system in a more human fashion:
- Learn what the user's actual questions are, and then put the answers into task-sensitive help. You want people to feel like ths system knew exactly what their question was.
- Talk like a human. Use contractions and other elements of
conversational language. Brains don't know the difference between
conversational language that is heard as vs. read.Help should almost read like a transcript of how you'd answer the
question in person, rather than like how you'd answer it if you were a
writer. Conversational syntax makes helpful information not only easier to comprehend, but also easier to pay attention to.
Good design gives users the ability to enter the flow state - and so, designers looking for passionate users can get them by focusing on creating effective users.