Kathy Sierra on Creating Awesome Users

The model for sustaining customer loyalty is reverse engineering user awesomeness.

Peldi pointed me to a video of Kathy Sierra's presentation at Business of Software 09, where she talks about sustaining passionate and loyal customers. Positioning and generating sustainable relationships is not what you think it should be about. It's about user benefits, and not features--about how they feel about themselves in the context of what you provide them.

Don't make a better [X], make a better [user of X].

What creates the conditions for a user to be happy is how they experience what they do in the world because of what you give them. To jump to the chase, it's not about good products, good service, or good companies. It's not about you at all. It's about your users.

The model for sustaining customer loyalty is reverse engineering user awesomeness. Doing things that continue to let them say, "I'm awesome" because of things your product lets them do. Helping people kick ass FTW.

Don't sell me, teach me and I'll do the rest.

One example she gives has to do with how you treat examples vs. documentation. She references a Nikon learning site that shows people how to capture a waterfall, and cuts right to that user voice that says, "I want to do that."

By providing a learning experience that tells this story rather than expecting users to read the manual, the user can do more and go further than any technical document will ever enable them to do. Manuals let users understand tools, but stories and examples help users have great experiences. If you help users have that experience, they associate you with that experience--that awesomeness they create themselves. It's not about creating better products necessarily, it's about enabling people to become better users.

She suggests focussing on compelling questions, like the ones below, that have to do with creating that user experience.

  • Focus on what the user does, not what you do.
  • Ask, "What does having a solution mean to our users? What [bigger cooler thing] is enabled?"
  • Give them super powers.
  • Offer better gear and help them justify it to others. Give them higher "resolution".
  • Motivate and Inspire. Give them motivation for things they WANT to do but aren't. Get stuck camera users out of P mode.
  • Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing difficult.
  • Make them actually smarter. Keep users working on the smart things. Offer exercises, games, etc. that support deliberate practice of the right things. Make the time more fun. Turn the brain on with cognitive pleasures.
  • Shrink the user's 10,000 hours (time spent working on a specific task), by giving them patterns or shortening the duration of that time.
  • Make your product or your documentation reflect how they really feel.
  • What does being your user SAY about your user? What would their tshirt read?
  • On the heroes journey, we have to think about who we are to our users, and what role we actually play.
  • Don't insist on inclusivity. It's OK to split off the advanced ass kickers from the newbies in your community.

I have to agree with the closing point she makes. What we're doing by making software is increasing the resolution of the universe for people--increasing their ability to see more and feel expert in their world.

If you haven't already watched the hour long video above, I highly recommend making the time to come back to it.