Kathy Sierra: Creating Passionate Users (Web2.0Expo, Berlin)

[fr] Workshop de 3 heures animé par Kathy Sierra. Comment rendre ses utilisateurs passionnés.

Disclaimer: theses are just my live notes of Kathy Sierra‘s workshop. Though I try to be accurate, they may contain mistakes or be incomplete. Please don’t hesitate to link to other notes, reviews, or relevant material in the comments.

Not passion like being attached to your iPod, but more passion like how we invest energy into our hobbies.

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There are techniques we can use to achieve that…

Kathy is going to draw techniques from many domains, who all have a piece of the puzzle:

  • hollywood :-)
  • cognitive science
  • neurobiology
  • psychology
  • learning theory
  • design
  • game design
  • advertising

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Passion: music, photography… that level of passion. Think of something that you have a passion for, or have had a passion for. Here’s how to tell if it was: you want to keep getting better, you want to learn more, practice more… that’s a real passion.

People with a passion:

  • show off
  • learn
  • continuously improve
  • spend time

Reverse-engineering passion. Look at common attributes of things people have a passion about (e.g. people want to keep learning and getting better). How can we drive passion rather than wait for it to happen?

Where there is passion… there is a user kicking ass. Nobody really get a passion about something they suck at. Challenge: what to do in the period where users still suck.

One of the reasons people pursue passions is that it gives them a higher resolution experience. You see things differently when you’re passionate. You see more details, things that others don’t notice.

The Kick Ass Curve:

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Between the first time and the suck threshold is the real challenge, because that’s where we’ll lose people. Strategies to keep pushing our users up that curve, and not just when they get past the point where they no longer suck. The faster you can get your users past the Suck Threshold, the more likely you are to have passionate users.

So, how fast can we do that, and how?

But… the problem is that people don’t want to be experts at a tool, but experts at what they can do with the tool. They use the tools to do something. That explains why documentation is all wrong, because it focuses on teaching the tool.

Good example: photography site which focuses on the results people want, the photos they want to be able to take, instead of on the camera.

Kathy, seeing slow-shutter speed photo of waterfall, understands why she needs to ditch her point-and-shoot, because she needs control on the shutter speed to be able to take those kind of pictures. And that’s what she wants to be able to do.

We don’t want to be tool experts.

Before our customers buy, we treat them well with glossy brochures, and as soon as they buy they get an unpalatable tech manual for their camera.

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What if your product isn’t something people can use to do really cool things? (Showing a picture of Coldplay.) If we look, we can see what people might be able to use it for that they’ll get excited about. So, Chris Martin of Coldplay is very interested in fair trade. He helps people get involved in the cause. (Oxfam.) A band can help people become passionate about their work, their music.

Another example: Red Bull. Kathy likes Red Bull, but she doesn’t want to become an expert at what’s in it! So Red Bull are helping people become passionate about other stuff, not the drink — music, for example.

Bottom line: whatever you have, whatever your business is, you can have passionate users. They don’t have to be passionate about your product.

Imagine Nikon sets up a really cool site to teach people about photography. Learning is a drug for the brain, so this feel-good feeling is going to be linked to Nikon, who is behind the site. Passion spills back to the tool/brand. (That was a bit of psychology…)

THE important question: what do (or can) you help your users kick ass at? (answers are not: the tool, the interface). The stuff your tool allows to do.

What if you make trash bags? Well, you can sponsor a festival, do something completely unrelated. But you could have little films with creative use of trash bags, and then you create tutorials to teach people to make kick-ass films with those trash bags. (steph-note: sounds way more lame when I write it than when Kathy says it.)

Big question: how do we actually make that happen?

It all starts in the user’s head, and the user’s brain is not our friend.

Our brain has a little logic, and lots of emotion. Our brain thinks we’re still cavemen. Our brain has a big crap filter, and not much gets through. Your brain cares about that which you feel. Chemistry! Mind has one agenda, but brain has another. Imagine, trying to learn from a dry textbook even though committed to studies and the test… but the brain isn’t into it. Any moment though, something could wake the brain up (smell of pizza, cute guy).

What does the brain care about?

  • things that are just a little weird, that are just out of expectations
  • scary things
  • sex
  • little young helpless innocent things (baby, puppy)
  • play, joy
  • humour (bunny suicides…)
  • faces
  • things that are not quite resolved, some mystery, want to know the rest of the story (hand hiding face)

To keep people reading, you need to make sure their brain stays awake.

The brain doesn’t care about

  • generic clichés (bride and groom kissing, no-no, whereas groom biting bride’s shoulder…)

Trick the brain!

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Conversational beats formal every time. It can be subtle!! steph-note: this what I try to explain to people about writing in “blog style”.

Leading theory about that: the brain can’t tell the difference between a real conversation and something written in conversational tone. “God, a conversation, I have to keep up my end, pay attention.”

Rule: talk to the brain, not to the mind.

To read: “A mind of its own” by Cordelia Fine (How your Brain Distorts and Decieves)

Prepare the brain so that when people see this they think “ew, bad”:

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Hey… all this was just about getting people’s attention! We still need to get past the Suck Threshold.

Where are my users on the suck / kick ass curve? If your tool is easy to learn, can they spend a lifetime getting better at what they do with it?

Who do snowboarders go back the second day? The first is so awful! Because there is this picture in their mind of what it’ll be like to kick ass at it. People persevere because they have an idea in their head of what it will be to be really good at it. Another reason is that they see a path, a series of steps to getting there.

People stick at something that’s stuff because there is:

  • compelling picture
  • clear path
  • easy first step

How easy depends on how much value they perceive they’ll get. Sometimes just giving an e-mail address is too big a step.

Who is describing this “compelling picture” for your users?

Why? Who cares? So what? If people are to learn something, they have to keep turning the pages of the book. We need to get past the brain’s crap filter when we’re explaining.

It’s an exercise:

  • My tool does X
  • So what?
  • Well, if you can do X, then it means you can do Y
  • And so what?
  • etc…

(when you feel like killing the other for being so thick, you’re getting close t the meaningful stuff: “you’ll never have sex again”, “you’ll lose your job”)

Keep asking why.

Now, we need to get users to learn.

Learning increases resolution.

“RTFM” expresses how we feel about our users. If you want them to RTFM, make a better FM!

All the money goes to enticing, sexy, motivating, advertising brochures. And after… when it’s time to learn, nothing left.

Learning Theory

Facts — information — understanding. Need more understanding. We tend to teach too many facts. steph-note: cutlery noise from outside coming in through open door is really annoying me

The more they understand, the less they need to memorize.

Because a choice is asked, our brain starts doing more processing.

Smackdown Model: throw two equally compelling, strong, arguments at somebody, and the brain is forced to start processing.

Words + pictures > words. Even drawing a picture on a napkin and taking a photograph of it.

Look for “oh crap!” and “oh cool” moments.

steph-note: tiring

“just in time” is more effective than “just in case” learning. But be careful, you don’t want to always prevent them from scraping their knees.

Who can help you help your users learn? Where are the resources? steph-note: other users! Kathy: “community” ;-)

However, nothing of that matters unless you manage to keep your users engaged.

steph-note: break-time, good!

Should read the book “Flow, The Psychology of Optimal Experience”.

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What is it like to be in the flow state? You don’t really notice that time is passing. If you have lost time, either you were abducted by aliens, or you were in the flow state. You just keep going. For people to be in the flow state, a very delicate balance needs to be achieved:

  • knowledge and skill
  • challenge

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What turns the brain on?

  • discovery
  • challenge
  • narrative
  • self-expression
  • social framework
  • cognitive arousal
  • thrill
  • sensation
  • triumph
  • accomplishment
  • fantasy
  • fun (?)

Fun does not have to mean funny.

What breaks flow state, state of enchantment? Think of the user as under a spell. Suddenly realising that they’re using this tool to achieve what they’re doing. (Oh, crap, where’s that button?)

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Don’t make me think about the wrong thing. Just make me think about the interesting stuff. Make it hard to do the wrong thing, and easy and natural to do the right thing.

Techniques to make the flow state happen and remain there. How do we keep them coming back?

Nobody does this better than game developers. Video games! Always trying to get to the next level.

User experience Spiral:

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Motivational milestones. Make sure the users know where they’re going.

Differences between girls and boys and video games:

  • boys: getting to the next level is the aim
  • girls: getting to the next level, but what for?

Are there any new superpowers that I’ll get at the next level? If done right, the payoff gets bigger for each level. Gives you a chance to paint the next compelling picture of what they’ll be able to do.

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Levels have to be small at the start.

What are levels for web development? Online communities? Flickr users?

What are your level superpowers?

Frequent rewards. Lots of small benefits. User as hero. Who/what is the helpful sidekick/mentor? How will the hero be changed?

The Tribe…

e.g. 37 signals: “getting real” — so people who are into 37 signals products identify with this “getting real” attitude. Mac: “think different”.

Music video, shot just in living-room and shows what all the money that could have gone into making it could be used for in the third world:

What part of your product is (or could be) part of a user’s identity? (meaning)

Site where people photograph their iPod in various settings. People holding one company’s book in various locations.

So, how can your users show that they belong to the tribe?

If you want them to talk… give them something to talk about. LOTR stuff in calendar OSX (steph-note: dig around that).

e.g. on cover of one of Kathy’s series books, same girl as on this site– lots of talk!

Figuring things out (insider info) is social currency (whuffie). Everyone loves to be the one to tell you about… X.

Find interesting stories. Give users treats. Things that they can talk about. Give them social currency that they can use elsewhere. Legends, stories, people. Where there is passion, there are people.

Once you get to a certain level, people start trying to figure out who will play you in the movies ;-)

founder/creation stories, user-as-hero stories? You don’t want to make it about you… people are passionate about themselves. First thing to look at: testimonials. They should be about how great these users are as a result of using the products. People want to see themselves reflected in the testimonials.(Not about the product of the founders.) The more first person language in reviews (about a book, eg.), the better. What’s important is if something good happened to the user, not what they think about you.

Community

  • forums?
  • study groups?

at the least, a blog with comments…

Javaranch registration terms of service: “Be nice”. Users have to agree to that. If people aren’t nice, how do you get them to answer and ask questions? How quickly can you make it possible for people to ask and answer questions?

No dumb questions. Don’t allow people to say “that’s already been answered 50 times”. It’s OK to ask a question again. Never shun somebody for asking a question.

But the most important factor is actually no dumb answers. Try to get people to convert to answerers as fast as possible. Information on “how to answer questions”. When people answer a question, make sure they feel encouraged because they’ve done it.

Tutorials on how to make tutorials.

How to know you’ve got passionate users

When people stop criticising you, but criticise your users. A bit unsettling, but that means you have passionate users. “Cult?” “Sheep?”

Then, give your users some sort of defensive weapon.

If you try to satisfy everybody, you delight and inspire nobody.

Tips and trouble on the road to passionate users

Levelled products (iMovie is free, FinalCut isn’t — so you start with iMovie thinking you’ll never need more, and at some point you’ll outgrow it; problem though: big gap between the two from a usability point of view). Good strategy, however.

“Dignity is Deadly”

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Startup: individuals Corporate: consensus

Apes become smarter as they work together. Humans become dumber as they work together. (“Wisdom of Crowds”)

We tend to think our ideas are amazing, but our users think they’re tolerable.

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Listening to users: what they say is not what they want.

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User priorities

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When you ask them to prioritize, and when you ask them to also explain, you get very different results.

The greatest cause of user pain:

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Making things better can in fact make them worse. If a simple thing is nice and flow-inducing… No need to improve it by adding tons of features.

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The Secret…

It doesn’t matter what they think about you… (It’s not about you, and it’s not about what you do). All that matters is how they feel about themselves as a result of their interaction with you, your product, your company… steph-note: thinking that Lush testimonials are spot-on, they really have passionate users and I’m one of them.

The user must have an “I rule!” experience.

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Remember: your users are real people.

Thank you, Kathy. It was great to have a chance to see you.

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8 Responses to Kathy Sierra: Creating Passionate Users (Web2.0Expo, Berlin)

  1. Pingback: Kathy Sierra: Keynote (Web2.0Expo, Berlin) at Climb to the Stars (Stephanie Booth)

  2. Kathy Sierra says:

    Wow — thank YOU Stephanie for being there and for making such a detailed write-up. I really REALLY appreciate it. Cheers — enjoy the rest of the conference, as I plan to now that I’m DONE! ; )

  3. Joe McCarthy says:

    Stephanie: these are fabulous notes and photos! I’ve been going through withdrawals ever since Kathy withdrew from the blogosphere (though I certainly understand and support her decision). I’m sad I missed Web 2.0 Expo, but your notes and photos really help me get a sense for what she was talking about – a nice compendium of the collection of wisdom she’d shared on her Creating Passionate Users blog over the years. I’m glad you had the stamina to keep up the pace in capturing the insights and observations – your post has been extremely inspiring and helpful to at least one passionate reader :-) .

  4. Pingback: Climb to the Stars (Stephanie Booth) » November 2007 Recap

  5. Pingback: girls vs boys « snippets of cloud

  6. Dan Grigsby says:

    Great article. I'm using it as a part of a college curriculum — thanks for your work!

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