Tools for Enchantment: 20 Ways to Woo Users

Homonculous tbLoose notes from SXSW 2008 session “Tools for Enchantment: 20 Ways to Woo Users” with Kathy Sierra, CreatingPassionateUsers.

This has so far been by far the most intellectually stimulating / inspiring session of the show. Sierra has a way of turning on your brain by talking about the brain, and running far afield from the usual web talk while still bringing it all back home to make it relevant. Awesome session.

Neurogenesis – Animals in cages have inhibited brain growth. An enhanced environment allows the brain to flourish. Corrollary: A cubicle environment inhibits brain development.

In studies of people who are really good at something: It’s not about natural talent (for the thing they’re doing) but more about having a talent for practicing. Ability to practice is what makes people good at things (could be anything). This is both encouraging and depressing. But you CAN change your brain in profound ways if you just put in the time.

So how can you translate this to user experience? People won’t become passionate about something they suck at. If you have a success, you keep re-investing in what it takes to get better. The wrong answer for sites is “Keep using our tool.” Users don’t care about your tool.

1) Use telepathy. Two flavors of mirror neurons, i.e. the telepathy neurons. 1) Ability to read facial expressions. You have to see people’s faces when doing user testing. It’s like you’re running a simulation of their brain inside your brain. BUT sim resolution depends on YOU (on what you’ve already done or experienced). You need to have felt the user’s pain so you can empathize. You can sit in a room and close your eyes and practice free-throws. You actually can get better this way!

2) Serendipity. Brains love it. Brains are pattern matchers. We try to find reasons for things, connections. People think their iPod Shuffle is psychic, don’t believe it’s random. They think the shuffle is able to figure out what they need, when. (Notes lost due to flood of late arrivals at panel, grrrr.)

3) Make interface feel more alive. A little bit of real-world physics makes all the difference. The little UI bounce on the iPhone makes the UI feel much more human. Think about real-world physics.

4) Create Joy. Pay attention to Amy Jo Kim.

5) Inspire first-person language. Your site’s testimonials shouldn’t be about you. Get users to talk about themselves, use 1st person language. Lots of “I”s in user reviews. Don’t tell people how great you are, let them talk about how their life has changed.

6) T-shirt-first development. “God uses a Mac” “I went outside once. The graphics are not that good.” T-shirts nuggetize your philosophy. But make it good.

7) Easter eggs and other treats. Find delight, find surprise.

8) (Missed the title). Sierra admits she was wrong about Twitter. There’s more value there than she thought. Video – twitter in plain english (check this out). Point is that it can be hard to articulate the value of your product without them spending time with it. Make videos or guides or something to help make the case.

“My passion is awesome. Yours is totally lame.”

Look someone straight in the eyes. You are looking at a predator. That’s why we have eyes in the front of our head. I am seeing a deer that’s about to be eaten. Do you picture the audience as predators or as prey? Think about ways to help your users relieve stress. Get rid of the anxiety. If they’re stressed, they won’t stop and be thoughtful. They won’t spend time with you (your site). Manage the fight/flight response.


10) Help improve their body. Exercise the brain. Brain Age is a top-seller — why? Plain old physical exercise is the #1 best thing for the brain. Geeks are coming late to this idea of “Oh, I have a body.” Optimize your body.

11) Give them superpowers quickly. How can you get people enabled really quickly? (contrast this to anti-spam comment from SN session – don’t give shared bookmark sites the social features right away – make them prove themselves). How to keep people pushing forward? Do experts know more? Learn to do knowledge acquisition and representation. Bruce Wilcox: Became a master of the game of “Go” – and did it by trying to write a computer program to emulate the game. By studying people and knowledge to “sympathize” with the game, he got inside of it.

Help and FAQs are not enough. “Let the off the hook” is the killer app.

User reactions to your site’s problems: “Oops!” vs. “Bastards!”

The community is doing things that developers (and/or journalists?) used to do. Experts just keep pushing forward beyond that. You have to devote ALL of your attention to whatever you’re working on.

16) Create a culture of support. User as hero – the hero’s journey. the hero brings back the magic elixir to the village and helps all the people (experts on your community site help the beginners) So make mentors of people much sooner. Create a culture of “no dumb questions.” Oh, and …. “No dumb answers.” Encourage people to start trying to answer things early on.

17) Do not insist on “inclusivity.” Let the experts use their jargon – don’t discourage it because it might scare off the newbies. Jargon is something with a lot of bit depth. Passionate users “talk different.” Give everyone a space to feel comfortable.

18) Practice seductive opacity – again turning people on. Brains love mystery. It’s not secrecy – it’s theater. The digital world has raised the value of non-digital things.

The package: It is impossible to see the amazon box on your doorstep and not smile. Even if it’s a terrible perl programming book. That’s why the UPS delivery guy is a sex symbol. Unboxing is the experience of unpackaging your new geek toy (like the photo sets of people unboxing their new mac). How can you bring this experience to the UI of your site? Make Magazine – huge and growing. Etc. – same. Not just boomer nostalgia – it’s partly indie sensibility. Homonculous shows the importance of certain parts of your body compared to other parts. (look this up).

Petted rabbits have lower cholesterol (really!)

19.5) Do what this guy does – see (solace?) – Gary Vaynerchuck of Wine Library TV. He does everything on this list perfectly. People are talking about him in 1st person language.

See homunculous


One Reply to “Tools for Enchantment: 20 Ways to Woo Users”

  1. Very helpful and intriguing article!! , I’m in the beginning phase of making my very first blog project ( using a topic that’s very close to my heart ) and these tips will be infinitely useful to me.

    And these pointers will be very compatible to my chosen topic because it’s in the fantasy-fiction genre

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