2014 Main Conference Talk
Designers are trained to guide users toward predetermined outcomes, but is there a better use of this persuasive psychology? What happens if we focus less on influencing desired behaviors and focus more on designing ‘sandboxes’: open-ended, generative systems? And how might we go about designing these spaces? It’s still “psychology applied to design”, but in a much more challenging and rewarding way!
In this talk, I’ll share the journey I’ve been on, from trying to shape and influence a user’s path, to creating these sandbox environments. You’ll learn why systems such as Twitter, Pinterest, and Minecraft are so maddeningly addictive, and what principles we can use to create similar experiences. We’ll look at education and the work of Maria Montessori, who wrote extensively about how to create learning environments that encourage exploration and discovery. And we’ll look at game design, considering all the varieties of games, especially those carefully designed to encourage play — a marked contrast with progression games designed to move you through a series of ever-increasing challenges, each converging upon the same solution. Finally, we’ll look at web applications, and I’ll share how this thinking might influence your work, from how you respond to new feature requests to how you design for behavior change in a more mature way.
About the speaker(s)
Stephen P. Anderson is a design leader focused on workforce learning and organizational development. And he’s on a mission: To make learning the hard stuff fun, by creating ‘things to think with’ and ‘spaces’ for generative play. Through custom toolkits, on-site training, and The Mighty Minds Club, Stephen helps product teams work through their most difficult situations. As a keynote speaker, Stephen continues to challenge and inspire audiences as he exposes the quirky connections between games, play, learning, interactive visualizations, and other exciting topics.
Stephen is most recognized as the man behind the Mental Notes card deck—a tool that’s widely used by product teams to apply psychology to interaction design. He also authored Seductive Interaction Design, which answers the question: “How do we get people to fall in love with our applications?” Stephen’s next book, Figure It Out: Getting From Information to Understanding will be out Spring 2020.
Stephen Anderson: Thank you all for making it out this morning. Quick question, how many of you were of the karaoke tribe last night?
Raise your hand. How many of you were of the game night tribe? Raise your hand. Good. I’m more of the game night tribe, sorry. A little background on what I’m going to be talking about. For the past several years, I’ve been very interested in psychology and design.
Specifically, how can we use psychology to design more fun, engaging, and effective interactions and this led to a book that I published with New Riders a few years ago called “Seductive Interaction Design.” It also led to a toolkit I created called “The Mental Notes Card Deck.”
Again, this theme of psychology and how can we apply it to our work to the designs we do. The talk I’m going to give today is really where that thinking has led me, where I’m at this. I’m thrilled, because this is for the first time in my career I feel like I really have a strong viewpoint or a strong perspective on a lot of the daily work I’m doing…
With that, let me start. Last fall, I was flying into Waterloo, Canada for a conference there. As I flew in, I looked out the window. Actually, I took a photo looking out the window, and my first thought was, “Wow. Look at the vibrant colors here. This is just incredible. What a lovely place I’m about to visit.” My second thought was, “Wow. This looks like Settlers of Catan.”
Stephen: I’m a little obsessed with games, particularly board games lately.
If you’ll indulge for a few minutes, I’d like to share three games that I’ve been playing a lot of lately, probably, more than a healthy individual should. This first game I’m embarrassed to admit to that I’ve been playing, but you may have heard of it. It’s a game called “Candy Crush.”
Stephen: How many of you have played Candy Crush? Those of you who have not played Candy Crush, do not start.
Stephen: It’s like they perfected the Skinner box and slot machine Las Vegas mechanics, and you will get addicted. I won’t tell you what level I got up to before I quit cold turkey, but I can say, I’m 47 days without Candy Crush.
Stephen: Can we have a round of applause, please?
[applause and cheering]
Stephen: For those of you who don’t know Candy Crush, it’s almost like “Bejeweled” on steroids with lots of leveling up and novelties thrown in and things like that.
The other game which I’m not going to go into very much for this talk or at all is a board game called “Seven Wonders.”
Basically, you play this game in 18 rounds, and you try to create the most advanced civilization by the end of 18 rounds. All I’m going to say is I love this game, fantastic game. If you are a product owner, product manager, product strategist, anyone making leadership decisions for a company, this is required playing. It’ll be better than any book you can buy on the subject. All right?
Finally, the other game I’ve played a lot of, especially with my boys, is Minecraft. Another show of hands—how many of you have played Minecraft, or know about it? OK—homework assignment. You all have to go out and play Minecraft. I don’t care if it’s iPad, PC, whatever—incredible game.
Minecraft’s a little bit hard to describe to folks. In fact, a lot of people look at it and they scratch their heads, like, “What’s the point of the game?” It’s almost like you’ve been thrown into a virtual box of Lego bricks, and you can build and make stuff.
There’s none of the usual trappings that you get with a game. There’s no leveling up or badges or points or assignments. You’re in this world where you can create and play and discover. There’s a little bit of tension thrown in where you start off during the day building stuff, but then, night comes and that’s when things like zombies start approaching.
If you didn’t do stuff in the afternoon to protect yourself or bury yourself in a hole, then, you might be in a little bit of trouble. But you can play it in survival mode like that or you can play it in creative mode. And people create some of the most amazing things. Again, this is with little pixel squares inside this game. Here’s the “Up” house as an example.
I’m going to hold these three games up as exemplars of different types of games that we can learn from—we can learn patterns from. This is not a talk about games, but this is a good reference point or exemplar for what I am going to talk about. I’m going to remove Seven Wonders for the purpose of this talk, but if you want to ask me about that later on, I would love to talk about that.
Candy Crush I’m going to hold up as an example of a path, and Minecraft I’m going to hold up as an example of a sandbox. That’s what I’d like to talk about for the first half of this talk, is a path and a sandbox, and what are the differences between those two things?
Paths—the word very explicitly comes from some of the research about how to motivate people and how to design for behavior change. There’s this idea that we have to direct the writer. That’s our conscious thought. But the writers…it’s like riding an elephant. The elephant’s going to do what the elephant wants to do, which is our automatic system, it tries its best to direct it.
Then there’s this idea of shaping the path that people go down. This idea has shown up in a lot of books on persuasive design, on psychology, on behavior change, on how to hook people, all these types of things. How do we create the path that influences the behavior we would like to see?
Here’s another model I came across recently that I’ve actually enjoyed. It’s not a path, but it’s the persuasion slide. I actually think it’s really good way to approach this kind of work—to talk about, what’s the nudge to get people started down the slide?
Have you removed all the friction, all the gravel in the slide? What’s the slope of the slide, the conscious and unconscious motivators? And what’s the gravity—the customer’s initial motivation?
Lots of examples of paths in the persuasive design world.
Candy Crush is obviously a literal path where you level up and go do more and ever-increasing challenges. In fact, paths are common to probably most video games that we’ve grown up playing for the last several decades. If you look at all of these games from Pac-Man to Portal to Myst, there’s a leveling up involved with most of these—ever-increasing challenges.
We see this in the real world, as well, with things like scouting programs, where you earn badges and you increase in rank. Paths are very common in well-designed experiences, like checking into a hotel. They want to describe the customer experience and the path you go through. Schools work on designing paths that funnel kids through from K through 12 and exit them with the program.
You level up in businesses. There’s all sorts of paths in the regular workforce in everyday environments. Paths are designed to lead people along for better or for worse. I want to share a few examples here. This first one’s rather neutral. This is the path-tracker experiment that was done I think seven, eight years ago.
Basically, they just put RFID tags in a grocery store and they monitored the paths that the carts went down. The RFID tags were in the carts. They were able to get a map of all the places that shoppers went frequently, infrequently. Then, they could make decisions or make changes based on that data. Fairly neutral. It’s just good information to act on, good data.
If you look at Las Vegas, that is a really, really well-designed path. They’ve attended to every detail for one purpose—to separate you from your money. You walk in and even the doors to get in are huge, but the doors to get out are often very narrow and you often have to get in a line to get out. Every experience in a Las Vegas casino has been designed for one specific purpose.
But let’s flip to Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World—I went there with my family last September. It’s also a bunch of really well-designed paths. They’ve attended to absolutely every detail. Like Las Vegas, there’s a transaction. I’m paying money for hopefully a good/great family experience, and they want to design every detail they can to ensure that I have a great experience.
That’s what I mean that paths aren’t necessarily good or bad. It’s just attention to detail in controlling or directing the outcomes or the experience that people have. Paths are obviously prevalent in our work, as well. We have things like customer journey maps, service blueprint scenarios. We have all these paths where we map out the experience that people are going to have.
Amy Jo Kim talks about the player journey, from newbie to regular to enthusiast. Dan Lockton talks about influencing behavior in “Design with Intent,” and he has three paths he talks about.
Even in my own workshops on Seductive Interaction Design, I talk about ways to nudge people towards completion, ways to assist people in developing new skills, and ways to assist in establishing or putting an end to new habits.
These would all fit under this description or definition of paths. Paths aren’t necessarily bad, but I did want to pull out two quotes, two sentiments. This is a reaction and a backlash to some of this persuasive design that I’ve seen coming out over the last year.
The first is Quora, which is a site I actually like quite a bit. They’ve got a really designed system for asking and getting questions answered. They send out a customer survey just to say, “How do you like Quora?” This is the email response that one person posted publicly. I wanted to read a couple of his responses so you can get an idea of the sentiment against paths.
He says, first, “I hate how gamified the system is. I hate how it’s obvious that the people running it do not have any compunctions about manipulating human psychology to eke out engagement and growth. I think Quora epitomizes what’s wrong with Silicon Valley start-ups—A/B testing everything to the point that you lose your humanity.”
Then he goes on to say, “Where would I like to see improvement? I’d like you to start treating your users with an ounce of respect. I’d like you to start treating me like a human being, not an f’ing statistic.”
This is from Kathy Sierra. She talks frequently on these same issues and she talks about engagement. She says, “If we really cared about our users, we would not use any behavioral tricks, nudges, to suck them into spending more time on our site.”
“If we really cared about our users, we would try to help them spend less time engaging with our site. If we really cared about our users, we’d take all the persuasive manipulative tricks—intermittent variable rewards, et cetera—and do the opposite.”
She actually points to some companies whose goal is to get people to spend less time onsite. That’s their internal metric.
Just to give you some general comments about paths, and this’ll make a lot more sense when I contrast them with sandboxes. Paths obviously shape behavior. They’re games to be played, and people often, when they’re put in a path, will play or hack the game. Paths lead people along.
They have predictable outcomes, so people have designed the path and they know where it’s going to lead people, and they plan for the scenarios. They’re measurable. They design every detail. They’re consumptive, meaning people are consuming something along the way. They create dependency, often, on directions or the boundaries of the path.
They have a clearly defined purpose. They lead to completion, ultimately. They’re best for instruction, and ultimately, they end in an exchange of some sort. I’ll comment a little bit more on this when I put up the contrasts for sandboxes.
Is there something more? Well, obviously, I think there is, or else I wouldn’t be up here. Let’s talk about sandboxes for a moment here.
Before I talk about sandboxes, I’d like to run you through the question I asked myself about a year ago. This talk started a little over a year ago, when I was doing a workshop about psychology and persuasive nudges, and these things. Just at random, I said, “Let me pick three sites that are maddeningly addictive, three experiences that people just spend tons of time on.”
The three I picked are random. There are others to choose from, but I picked Pinterest, picked Minecraft, and I picked Twitter. I said, “Let me deconstruct what mechanisms, what things they’re using to make these sites, these experiences, so maddeningly addictive.”
Before I tell you what I found, I’m going to give you a chance to answer this question yourself. Pick one of these online experiences. Hopefully, you’ve had experience with one of these three services. Pick one. I want you to list why you think people find them addictive. List as many reasons as you can. You will have 90 seconds. On your mark, get set, go.
Stephen: Time is up. If we were in the workshop, what would happen next is we would share and talk about those things you just wrote down.
This is what I did a year ago, but personally, in the process of identifying these things—and I came up with a bunch of things, like site completion, sequencing, status, self-expression. Maybe you didn’t know the word for it, but you wrote down something that approximates some of these principles.
In the process of deconstructing and listing these things out, there was something deeper and more fundamental about those three examples I picked that I just couldn’t let go of, that I was chewing on. I started looking at, what do all these experiences have in common? There’s something below the leaves. There’s a substrate there beneath all these superficial things, if you will, on the top.
There were two observations I made, two pretty fundamental observations about these three examples I had picked. One, these are platforms. You make of them what you want. There is no prescribed way to use the system. Number one, these are platforms. Because they’re platforms, they create what I call the WTF problem. It’s not what you think. This is the “what’s this for?” problem.
If anyone was on Twitter in the early days, you may have scratched your head and said, “What’s this for? Why do I use it? How do I use it?” That was a big or has been a big problem with Twitter, that initial engagement.
I experienced the same thing with Pinterest the first time I used Pinterest. I added a few pins and boards, but then really, moved on to other stuff, and didn’t come back to it until about a-year-and-a-half later, when my wife was using Pinterest to pin some ideas for how we could remodel our bedroom.
I said, “Wow, I could use that to pin ideas for how to decorate my office, or I could use this as a visual bookmarking system for a lot of the Internet of Things and embedded technology stuff I’m following,” but it wasn’t until I saw someone else doing it that I had this idea about how to use it.
Same thing with Minecraft. A lot of people land in it and they’re like, “What’s the point? What’s the challenge? What’s the game?” Then they watch others and they say, “Oh, that sounds like fun. I’m going to try that,” or “Oh, let’s play in this.”
That leads to the second observation. These are social spaces—or social places, as Andrea Resmini would correct me. People learn from each other how to use the system. Many of the psychological nudges that follow stem from observing others.
I mentioned a few of these. Minecraft uses this idea of positive mimicry. Actually, all of these, the idea here is positive mimicry. We learn what we should do in a system by watching others and their behaviors.
I watch my boys, particularly my oldest boys, build and construct these amazing things in Minecraft. I’m like, “How did you do that?” Then I ask them and they show me. They’re learning on their own. They’re also going outside of Minecraft to YouTube and watching YouTube videos, watching other players play Minecraft, to learn what they can do.
The hash tag in Twitter was largely an emergent element. People started using it, it shows up, and other people use it, it catches on. It wasn’t prescribed or built into the system. It was an emergent property.
Again, I mentioned with Pinterest, I saw my wife pinning it, and that’s what brought me back to this tool I had signed up for earlier.
Sandbox. I’m using this phrase. This actually comes from the game world, and the definition of a sandbox game is this. It’s a style of game in which minimal character limitations are placed on the gamer, allowing the gamer to roam and change a virtual world at will. In contrast to a progression-style game, a path, a sandbox game emphasizes roaming and allows a gamer to select tasks.
Here’s what I like. Sandboxes create open spaces for self-directed play and creativity. This is something I love—when you create a space for play and creativity and you can be surprised and delighted by what people do. People can do things you never imagined possible.
We’re seeing this. Here’s another example online. We’re seeing this with GitHub. GitHub is kind of a sandbox. We’re seeing a lot of writers say, “Wow, we could use GitHub,” which started off as a tool for devs, to check in and out code, and they’re saying, “Why don’t we use GitHub for writers to check in and out versions or drafts of our writing?”
You see sandboxes with things like LEGOs. When kids have this bin of LEGO bricks, they can build anything. It’s a sandbox environment within which to play. You have these amazing things that there weren’t instructions for, people just came up with them. These are all built out of LEGOs. Yes, I have a Pinterest board of all these Lego creations that I find fascinating.
As a parent, I started thinking about this paths versus sandboxes thing, and I’m going to make an assumption here. At some point, if you’re a parent, you probably created these bins or these boxes to help organize your children’s toys.
Here, you have dolls, and what is that? [inaudible 0:18:25] and music stuff. Right, some sort of bin to organize in structure, and I’m willing to bet particularly at an IA conference a lot more of us have done, OK. [laughter]
We’ve done this because it’s the only way to keep sanity in the house when you have young children. I was watching Toy Story for the umfteenth time, I was like “Wow, I love how Andy just plays with all the toys and mixes them and just makes up these creative worlds, and does this really imaginative play. I wish my boys did that.”
Then I said, “Well, wait a second. I’m forcing them to pull one out, play with it, and put it back before they get another one out,” right?
I’m trying to teach them some structure and discipline, and in doing so I wasn’t encouraging them to do that kind of open collaborative play and to mix everything and mash all the toys together.
Paths and sandbox show up in these subtle areas of parenting. Continuing on this theme, and again, because this is the IA summit, you can’t have a talk without referencing Christopher Alexander of pattern language.
One of the patterns he talks about is the adventure playground and he describes it like this, he says, “A castle made of carton, rocks, old branches by a group of children for themselves is worth a 1,000 perfectly detailed exactly finished castles made for them in a factory.”
His recommended solution, he says, “Set up a playground for the children in each neighborhood, not a highly finished playground with asphalt and swings, but a place with raw materials of all kinds, nets, boxes, barrels, trees, rope, simple tools, frames, grass, and water where children can create and recreate playgrounds of their own.”
This is the perfect example of a sandbox. Now, this sounds all great, and I want you to look closely at the picture. Some of you may have already seen this. Here’s a young kid in the single digits and he’s got a saw. [laughter]
There’s no supervision there. There’s a part of me that’s terrified by that, right? I’m sure many of us as parents are kind of like “This sounds good, but that’s scary,” right? “It’s really scary.” I read this quote and I think this is actually scarier.
I agree with this next quote. “I’m convinced that standardized playgrounds are dangerous, just in another way. When the distance between all the wrongs in a climbing net or ladder is exactly the same, the child has no need to concentrate on where he puts his feet. Standardization is dangerous, because play becomes simplified.”
It’s like “Ah, that’s a new way to reframe and look at this.” In contrast to paths, let me run through some of the characteristics of sandboxes. Where paths shape behavior, sandboxes create engagement.
Where paths are games to be played, sandboxes are spaces in which two play. Very different. Subtle, but very different. Paths lead people along, sandboxes let people explore. “Paths have predictable outcomes, sandboxes have unknown outcomes.
Again, not necessarily recommending one or the other. You know, you’re going to have to think about what’s perfect or what’s right for your situation. Paths are measurable, sandboxes are observable.
Paths design every detail, where sandboxes underspecify the design. Paths are consumptive, sandboxes are generative. People create things in sandboxes. Paths create dependency on directions. Paths encourage autonomy, ownership, independence. People find their own ways to do things.
Paths clearly find purpose. In sandboxes, the purpose is self-determined. Paths lead to completion, sandboxes lead to understanding. Paths are best for instruction, sandboxes are best for performance. Finally, I would say, whereas paths end in an exchange, sandboxes end in learning and discovering. That leads me to the next section I want to talk about.
This was another lens and another catalyst on this change in my thinking. I work a lot in the ed tech space and I’ve been a huge fan of the Maria Montessori method of education for many years. I went through a Montessori program through sixth grade, but it wasn’t until the last five or six years I really started to appreciate what my parents did for me, putting me in a Montessori program.
I want to read to a you a couple of quotes from the Montessori method that Maria Montessori wrote well over a 100 years ago. I was finally getting around to reading this and trying to understand the Montessori method and what it means, and I came across these quotes, these two that I’m going to share with you. This really just nudged my thinking along.
By the way, this quote right here sums up my views on gamification, if you are wondering about that. “The jockey offers a piece of sugar to his horse before jumping into the saddle. The coachman beats his horse that he may respond to the signs given by the reins, and yet, neither of these runs so superbly as the free horse of the plains.”
Now, some people would say, “If you just let horses run free on the plains, they won’t ever actually do anything,” and Maria Montessori doesn’t say that. She goes on to say, “We have prepared the environment and the material.”
She’s very specific. This is a design project. She designs the classroom and she designs the materials where the objects are placed in the environment to encourage kids to want to learn, to discover, to teach, and learn on their own terms.
It’s very much a designed environment. It’s not just backing off and saying, “Go play. Do everything on your own.” She has designed the environment.
Montessori, if you’re wondering what some of the key characteristics are, there’s lots of use of manipulatives. I remember the counting beads. I remember learning letters by tracing sandpaper. I remember cutting the cheese slices, cutting them in half and then half again. I had no idea that I was learning fractions. That’s what they were teaching me.
There’s mixed age classrooms, there was a K-3 class and then a 4-6 class. They have these specialized education materials. This is heavy emphasis on manipulatives.
Student choice, students can choose the activity from within a prescribed range of options. There’s objects placed in the environment that students can choose of their own, volition. There’s uninterrupted blocks of work time, and this is in stark contrast to most public schools, where you have the bell rings and you close up your work and you go onto the next class.
In the Montessori method, if they see a kid who’s engaged in learning, creating, and crafting stuff, they let that kid do that. They’ll let them do that for hours, days, weeks on end to pursue a project and pursue an interest, because there’s something more important than the content of the learning. They’re teaching people how to be curious life long learners.
Also, they have a constructivist or discovery model where students learn concepts from working with materials rather than by direct instructions, hands-on maker based learning. I think this has shaped kind of something I strongly believe in my philosophy on everything I do, playing is learning. Now, you can even say the opposite, learning is playing. If you approach the world like this like the world is a game.
It’s a play space, it’s fun. You get thrown something that you don’t enjoy and you reframe it and say, “There’s something enjoyable here. What am I going to learn? How am I going to be challenged?”
You look at some noted entrepreneurs and people who we’ve probably heard of, this is Will Wright, who created SimCity and Spore. He went to Montessori. He says, “Montessori taught me the joy of discovery. It’s all about learning on your terms rather than a teacher explaining stuff to you. SimCity comes right out of Montessori.
Founders of Google, Larry Paige and Sergey. “Friend, we both went to Montessori School and I think it was part of that training of not following rules and orders, and being self-motivated, questioning what’s going on in the word, doing things a little bit differently.
Sandbox education teaches you to play at life. I love this model. I think this sums up this whole point very accurately. I’ll just let you look at this. This is a sandbox mentality, someone who writes their own rules to the game and says, “I’m going to play life on my own terms.”
Right, and you see this coming up in a lot of books published in the past year or two, especially those related to education, talk about creating innovators. They talk about “I tell them I built this,” design, make, play, invent to learn, so this making as a way of learning and making, playing, and learning is a theme that’s growing within a lot of education circles.
This goes back to some fundamental psychology. Edward Deci says, “Human beings have an inherent tendency to seek out novelty and challenges to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore, and to learn.”
If I was to some up paths and sandboxes in the context of education, I would say, paths equate to formal institutional learning, what many of us have gone through or went through in public schools.
Sandboxes equate to informal, non-institutional learning. If you want to go back to the Greeks, you could say, “Paths view students as vessels to be filled. Sandboxes view students as fires to be kindled.”
Paths specify performance goals, we expect you to get an A in French. Sandboxes lead to learning challenges. Learning to speak French is the challenge, not the A.
Now, if you’re following along, particularly this, you’re probably starting to think, “Wait a second, is it that black and white? Are they that dispirit?” No, this is a false dichotomy. You need a mix of both at various times, but I think too often I see things that are designed as paths and not as sandboxes or with no sandbox elements. When I say, “Combined,” here’s an example.
What about a giant sandbox with just in time learning? Really short paths, I’m in the sandbox playing, but I need to learn how to do this skill to continue making or creating. That’s just in time learning, very short paths.
In my research on this, I actually came across several articles that did just this. There was one research study designed to teach girls in junior high how to program Java. Now, of all languages to start with I don’t know why they pick Java.
They’ve got a pretty big hurdle, but what they did, they created an environment, a sandbox environment where kids were actually thrilled and excited to learn this programming language.
They set it up in a way where you have this fantasy world and this challenge…I’ll just read it here. “Normally, learning in code spells is encouraged by ways of a series of quests that must be completed with the use of Java based spell crafting.
In our version, the players could walk up to in game gnome like characters who would give various spells to the player, along with simple explanations. Our hope was that these spells would serve as starting points for code exploration.”
This is the giant sandbox with just in time learning paths. You could also look at Lego bricks, which I mentioned earlier as a sandbox. Actually, when you first buy that set and it has the instructions, those instructions are a path, and as you build that thing that you bought in the picture on the cover it’s teaching you the skills you need to then go and create whatever you want.
The path is scaffolding to get you to a place where you can play in the sandbox and you can do whatever you want.
Philosophically, you’re probably with me and you’re like “OK, this is good, this is really interesting.” You may be thinking about your work. You might be asking, “OK, but how is this useful?
I’ve got to go back to work tomorrow or Tuesday. Are there some practical tips that I can take from this?”
I did say this has reframed and changed my work, and everything I do. I have a perspective on the work I do that literally translates into features and discussions, and I’d like to share a bit of that, some of the lessons.
This is all emergent. I’m learning along the way, but these are seven or eight things that I’ve applied coming out of this mentality. The first credit to Carzell Frank for this, I’ve learned to underspecify features.
This is going to be a hard one for a lot of us who work in lean and agile environments to swallow. Before I explain why, I want to show an example. The starring functionality of Twitter, when it came out there was no prescribed use case or use story.
It was just you could star stuff, and because you could do anything with a star, it wasn’t prescribed what it was, people have used in easily fix, six, maybe eight different ways. I use starring as a form of bookmarking.
Other people use starring as a form of liking, to say, “I like that,” right? You might use starring as a way to sync up with a program like IF to do some scripting and collect stuff. There’s different ways you can use the starring functionality.
Imagine if we were writing the use case for this before starring was added. As a user, I want to flag interesting tweets for reviewing later. As a user, I want to give kudos to people for sharing something interesting.
As a user, I want to save positive tweets for later use as testimonials in my company. If you had specified use case, as one of these things, you probably would design it a bit differently, where it was very specific for that.
By under specifying that, people have been able to use this feature in whatever way they want. The product I’m working on right now, we had a date picker. We’re going to put a date picker in that for time, another reasons we say, “Let’s not worry about the date picker.
Let’s just put an empty string in and suggest that you put a date in like specified time.” We did that and right away within the day, we saw people typing on things like instead of a date, they make this goal on hold. Make this one active. We saw them using that empty string on ways we never anticipated. Now, as a company, as a design group, we saw different things we never anticipated by under specifying the feature.
Avoid long workflows. Paths to find but one thing I’ve learned is to use short paths, not really long paths. Confession time, I worked on a project a few years ago where I felt so good about this stuff. All the psychology, this is think surely after my book is published.
I was working on this app where I was in meetings and making promises and all those stuff. I was so proud because we mapped out every possible action the user would take. The idea was must provide the scaffolding to help them do the right things.
This is just one moment or one state from the entire apps. If I zoom out, this is the entire blueprint. We had everything mapped out. I felt like a tutor in adventure novel like you knew exactly what users would do. When I project, what happened? People didn’t mapped everything we had set out. We didn’t anticipate everything. People were frustrated like people called this. “Why are you constraining me like this?”
We forgot the very fundamental principle which is keep users in control. Practical take the ways, build and consume your own APIs. How we’re building things now? Instead of one model of stock, we’re building things in a service oriented way.
There’s ways to create stand boxes of different levels. The interface, allowing people to choose what features they tag off run. At the API level, allowing people to build on top of their API, extend what they’re doing.
Maybe in the case of Minecraft, there are a lot of people that add modes to what you’re doing. You could just open the source code base and see what people do with it. See what other versions of your system people build.
There’s all different ways to open up from a technical perspective and the feature perspective your system and make it more of a sand box. Back up, let people make mistakes and learn through trial and error.
Another project I worked on, we work closely with several charter schools. We design something that map closely to their workflow. That should have been a signal there that word workflow.
What we had to do two years later, as we scale across the State and worked with more schools, as we have to come back and say, “You know what, that workflow that we built our system are based our system on. It’s restrictive and doesn’t scale to these other schools.” When we made a major overhaul last summer, these are some of the themes. I’ve highlighted some of the diverse sandbox related.
Last click, shared views, simple scheduling, open and flexible, only one done button, for we have done multiple buttons for each stage or each gate. Sequence is suggested and never required.
We were opening up and making this more of the sandbox so it’s scale across the US to different schools who have different systems and different workflows. Personal favorite, this influences a lot of decisions and making direct manipulation is best.
AKA, no more wizards. This is why I don’t blog very often. Right here, this is the other that I have to use on a current system. There is so much friction to this and frustration that I only blog two or three times a year.
You probably are all gone through this. Retype it up and you hit that preview. You go to the preview version. You see a typo and you go back and you make it. You go back, you go back and forth between these two modes like the writing mode and the preview mode.
Let me show you one of my favorite writing editors. This is medium. Medium, you are directly manipulating the object. The text fields were there. As you write, you’re actually seeing exactly how it will look.
It’s a hard to do. Like, there’s some batches when you get to build things in this way. There are companies who are really doing this successfully. Mediums one, square space as another to look at. You are building what the world will see.
You’re seeing it directly. There’s not that gap. That will probably take away. Help people understand through playful interactions. This was a big theme of the workshop that Carl Fast gave on Wednesday.
It’s going to be a big thing on the next book I am working on with version file media. It’s about how we learn or how we understand and make sense of the world interactions. It’s the big part of that. Here’s an example of a [inaudible 0:35:22] .
This is what Victor talks about. He says that most editors are like playing the piano. When you hit that note, you can’t actually hear the note until two minutes later. Like, imagine on trying to learn piano, everything was delayed like two minutes.
What he’s talking about here is real time feedback loop on code. In the moment, even with slight years, you can play and see the cause and effect relationship between the code and the outlet.
You have certain up these moments like that one where things go crazy that you never expected. Imagine if you were changing that number by number and hitting save and refreshing and looking. In a minute, you might have gone through three or four iterations.
You just saw hundreds in that same amount of time just by having a slide on these numbers. You could see the effect of what you’re doing. Highly recommend this by the way. This video from Brat Victor. These well against slide blinks at the bottom will be there as well. Another example, again I started work with a lot of EdTech companies that work in a lot of schools. I see a lot of online learning programs.
This one, ST Math’s, stands head and shoulders above all of the ones I’ve seen. Just a little background before I’ll play your clip of the founder of this EdTech. The founder actually struggled with Math as a child because he had dyslexia.
He realized later on in life that words and language are so intertwined with Math concepts that it’s actually getting in the way with him just being a good Math student. He wanted to create a Math program that does not rely on words. He went on to get his cognate in neuroscience and he found in this company.
They created this program that’s absolutely amazing. Just play a clip here and let him come on this system.
Video Character: Here’s some exponents and some captions. We’re basically able to buy all Math down to how do you help a little penguin across the street?
Stephen: Later on the presentation, he said this quote which I agree with a 100 percent. It’s everything that I’m writing that I’m interested about it right now.
He says, “The approach to teaching without words that I’m proposing makes heavy use of interactivity and instant informative feedback.” How do those examples on that I’m going to read it again. I did want to come and sum up with a couple of key points.
The big take away, I’m going to quote Cathy Sierra again. These are her words, “Will this help users take us? Will this help our users?”
There’s another observation, another practical take away if you’re looking for a framework or something to put this together, because I was just six or seven random ideas. Remember the monastery quote where I said, we have prepared the environment and the materials.
If you start looking at a lot of game, design books, and I’m talking books from the game world. You’ll find this theme. There’s the environment, there are objects in the environment and there are rules. The language may be different, but these are the patterns you start to see. This is from a presentation Dave Gray gave. He was talking about the game world. He says there are rules. There are boundaries.
There are artifacts. There are players in the goal. Like, its different words, but the same fundamental concept. What I love about this is he wasn’t necessarily talking about games. He was talking about how to approach every day work with the game mind set.
He said this. “The idea for knowledge games acme from watching people of the cutting edges of new disciplines. People who are entrepreneurs, people who are creators, designers and innovators, watching them work, watching them play.”
I love this part. “Sometimes, having difficulty telling the difference.” It’s beautiful. I love that. That means it’s final closing thought I will make. That’s the idea of playing it life. I’ve talked about past. I’ve talked about sandboxes.
I illustrated more on education and talked about some practical ways. I want to step back and talk about how this guy is reframing how I approach life or how I do things. How do you approach life?
Do you approach life like a path to follow or like a sandboxes on which to play? I want to come back to this diagram. The person who did this clearly approaches life like a game to play on their own rules, on their own terms.
I was watching a video, a documentary and that’s a group behind the special effects from movies like, “The Lord of the Rings”. They talk about their early days from a few people and building and growing.
One of the quotes that stuck with me was this. “What we learn from that project then allowed us to, and then, I talked like going on to the next project.” Every project was a series of learning things. You see this in companies that way.
You see this in companies like Pixar, where they’re exploring the boundaries of the technology they’re playing and seeing what they can do next. There’s a great story. There’s a great craft there. Also, exploring technology things.
What can we do now that we haven’t done before? What seem to be created that we could not have done it a year ago? What do we know now that we didn’t know before? Does this enable us to do something new and different?
It’s just constant learning, playing as learning. John Piaget, one of my favorite people. “Play is answered how anything new comes about.” To it, personal examples of my life. Going back over a decade ago, when I was doing primarily graphic design and marketing type things, one of the clients that we got was a company that does this. They make these things.
These are called durable products labels. The bar codes on the back of your VCR are you TiVo whatever. That’s what they make. Now, many graphic designers and many people working in marketing would be like, “Oh, gosh. Seriously like this is the best we have.
I’d much rather work on a Pepsi campaign or something like that.” In retrospect, this is probably one of the most exciting projects that going in the best plans I ever worked for. We looked at that. We started doing user research.
One of the things that came up, other user research was, that was a small and significant thing. You know what, if we forget about it, it’s going to delay everything. We’re not going to be able to ship our product on time.
That little gem, that little thing like this whole campaign where we will do things like this is the postcard for example. I would say it’s just the label. We played up this idea. It’s just the label. You’ll know this there’s actually labels to occur in.
Curiosity was used to get the person appeal it off. If you peel it off, you are in reflect peeling off the wings that says in without it. Your product won’t much. This whole idea, we took across media and across many things.
It was a fun project to work on. Who would ever thought that? The company that makes durable bar codes, durable labels. With my book proposal, I was handed the normal word template to answer these 20 questions, those types of things.
I just felt confined by that. I didn’t feel like I could tell the story of the book I want to write in that format. I knew publishers are looking for people to answer these specific questions. I had to answer that.
Those are rules that I couldn’t fudge around. The presentation, I didn’t have to fill in the word document and fill an online form. The proposal I came back with was actually a two-dozen slide presentation. This is viewed on all the slides.
This is my book proposal. This is my book pitch. I can say Louise are excited. He actually made the comment. He said, “Wow, in this enthusiasm and this energy that you put into proposal. We’re going to see it translating the book.
That’s the book right itself.” He was very enthusiastic and brace less, love this. Again, I was playing in some ways on my own terms. I knew what he needed but I want to do things on my way, as well. Put my own signature on it.
Good Tom Robbins quote to start wrapping things up. “Humanity has advanced. When it has advanced, not so it has been responsible and cautious, but because it has been playful, rebellious, and immature.”
The question I’d like to end with, two questions, are you designing paths for sandboxes in your every day work? For you, personally, are you following a path where you are playing in the sandbox? Thank you very much.