It’s About Helping Your Users Become Awesome (or: “Being Better is Better” by Kathy Sierra)


Kathy Sierra, who co-created O’Reilly’s “Head First” series of books and who used to write the very inspirational Creative Passionate Users blog, is awesome at helping users become awesome. I use her lessons as guidelines in my evangelism work and even borrowed from her to create a catchphrase that I used when interviewing for my job at Microsoft: “My goal is to help developers go from zero to awesome in 60 minutes.”

The blog O’Reilly Radar points to a great Ignite presentation (a style of presentation that’s restricted to 20 slides, each auto-advancing every 15 seconds for a grand total of 5 minutes) in which Kathy Sierra talks about ways to make your users awesome. The presentation is titled Being Better is Better, and I’ve posted it below, followed by point-form notes, which I took so that it’s easier for you to become awesome at making your users awesome:

  • If we want to create passionate users, we need to help them get better.
    • ‘Nobody’s passionate about things they suck at.”
    • Many people still have their cameras permanently set on “P” – automatic mode — even though those cameras offer finer control over things like shutter speed and aperture
    • What would it mean to our users if we unlock the door and help them be awesome?
  • In Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Outliers, a major theme is the “10,000 Hour Rule”, which states that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice to become really good at something.
    • 10,000 is a long time – it’ can be a depressing prospect
    • [Joey: According to Outliers, 10,000 hours makes for about 3 hours of focused practice every day for 10 years.]
    • To get good, you have to practice all the time.
    • Anything that makes it easier for your users to get practice – any time, anywhere – will help them get their 10,000 hours (and get good) sooner.
  • Give your users patterns for success
    • In any pattern you give your users, make sure that there’s “the one thing” that they can take away as a lesson
    • You need to answer the question: “What’s the one thing you can do to be amazing?”
  • Give your users better gear
    • They’ll work better
    • “Spend the money!”
    • Give people a way to justify the better gear you’re offering them
  • Motivation is important
    • Treat motivation as a gift
    • Make a product that people will actually use
    • “Your treadmill is not in the corner gathering dust because you don’t use it, you don’t use it because it’s in the corner.”
    • “Make the right thing easy for people and the wrong thing hard.”
  • And now, some anti-patterns:
    • We focus on the tool and not the thing the users want to accomplish with the tool
    • “We treat people really well before they buy, and afterwards, we treat them poorly.”
      • This is also the reason people don’t want to upgrade
      • If we want to help people upgrade – which is what they’ll need to do if they want to go forward – we have to accept that it’s a loss and a hit to their self-esteem
    • We write FAQs as if our users they were intellectually curious and have a tablet PC handy
      • People hit the FAQs and help because they’re having a horrible experience
    • “Don’t let the ease-of-use police” step in an dumb something down
      • You don’t feel awesome when you’ve mastered something that a 3-year-old can master
    • Hiring a social media consultant is the wrong thing to do
      • They focus in the wrong direction
      • Social media consultant are focused on making your users love you, which is the wrong thing – nobody is awesome because they love you
      • They think the goal is to make users want to party with you
      • The true goal is to make your users want to party because of something you did that helped them become awesome. They should want to party because of you, but without you
      • You want to connect users with other users, not with your company
      • A much better use of social media is to find out:
        • What role we play in our users’ lives
        • What role our competitors play in our users’ lives
        • What the pain and pleasure points for our users are
      • By trying to be competitive and focusing on our competitors, we end up being uncompetitive
        • This leads to featurities
        • We end up building things that end up harming our users
        • The best thing we can do is to look at the bigger, cooler thing – the world in which our products and our competitors’ products exist, the problems that the products are trying solve, the things at which our users are trying to kick ass – and blog, tweet and use social media about that
    • Getting WOM (Word-of-Mouth) may be the social marketers’ holy grail, but the true goal is WOFO – Word of [Effing] Obvious.
      • If your users are so good, you get WOFO.

This article also appears in Canadian Developer Connection.

6 replies on “It’s About Helping Your Users Become Awesome (or: “Being Better is Better” by Kathy Sierra)”

Wow, Joey, you did an awesome job of making me seem more coherent than I actually was during that talk. You hit all points that I care most about, and chose my favorite slide, too :)

Thank-you so much. Sorry I didn’t see this when it was first posted; Joel’s blog sent me here.

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