SXSXi Keynote: Kathy Sierra

Keynote Address: Kathy Sierra
her great blog: Creating Passionate Users
creator of Head First books

People are liveblogging, Twittering, recording, chatting and more. We’re telling people that you need our software, not humans. But you’re all here, right? Why?

What is that thing about being with real human beings? It could just be smell. There’s a lot of other theories. To make better applications, we better compensate for that missing “human-ness.”

Which group? designers, coders and money people. You may be in more than one.

Designers: if you saw a man drowning  and could either save him or photograph the event…

What would you tag it in flickr?

Coders: If you could choose between coding an open source web app or having sex?

Women in pic says: Ruby
Man in pic says: Python

Money person: (visualize money-person and insert humorous money-person comment)

Two things we need to do with our applications:

1) help our users get together with one another (offline)
2) make our software feel more human

Encourage offline communities:
- start help/user group
- make it low cost
- make your own *camp

Q: “What can a human do with another computer that they can’t do with a computer?”

A: they can’t make faces at a computer
A: they can’t ask questions (FAQ’s are not questions)

Showing slides with lots of wondering, frustrated faces – can software understand this? No.

All of our applications have Asperger syndrome (she listed qualities on a slide)

Have to give our app a way to know that the user is confused. I am trying to create passionate users, not people who just survive the product.

No one is passionate when they suck. Anyone who can get their users past the “suck” threshold to the passion threshold faster than the other guy will probably win.

Facial recognition theory is super-complicated. Instead, add a “WTF” button to the application. The computer can understand this.

When you click “Help” isn’t that people saying “WTF?” No, because the people who wrote Help think you are calm, ready to learn, have time to read, etc, instead you are actually in a panic and need to solve something.

The first thing in any good help would be “Don’t Panic”

She is showing someone searching for how to “add up numbers” in Excel Office Assistant with no luck, so many frustrating results. Then uses Excel’s main help section, again no helpful results. Nothing wrong with them, just written for the wrong people at the wrong time. The user is not able to express what they are feeling and doesn’t know what the function is called.

So what do we do when a user tells us they’re confused: think like a human.

Normally when someone is confused, you ask them what they are confused about. You could use a computer with natural language processing (another huge research area). Computer based learning has focused on this for a long time.

If you take the most commonly asked questions and capture them all, you can create menus that have those questions – you have to collect all the crazy questions though, not the ones the engineers write what they think will be the most common questions.

The point of the WTF button:
1) Get the user to the right context ASAP
2) Then give him an understandable set of questions

How to do this:

1) Choose a high-level statement like:
I’m lost Why did this happen. I don’t know what it’s called, but I need it.

“Give the user a way to express herself to the system in a more human-interactive way”

Why stop with WTF? What other emotions could the computer recognize?

People say that they hate the program, but they are actually sad because they can’t do what they want, it is making them feel stupid

You want people to say, “they knew exactly what I was thinking” – things were right where I needed them when I needed them.

Most importantly: talk like a human. When they write people stop being human for some reason. By just adding the word “you” the affect on user understanding is huge.

If you took a transcript of you answering a user question and posted that, it would be better than the tech writeups you normally get in FAQ’s.

“The key to passionate users is helping them learn.”

You can outspend the other guys, or you can out teach them. Both work.

Where there is passion…there is a user kicking ass.

Being really good at something makes that thing a higher-resolution experience.

If you can make your user just a little bit better at anything (playing a game, working, learning) – entering a state of flow – will be some of the happiest moments of their life.

We don’t have the change the world on a giant scale, but just one 5-minute user experience at a time.

I guess Kathy wasn’t collecting our videos to use at this presentation, because she didn’t show any videos. Pretty interesting presentation. I have to think about how it applies to ed tech people because it certainly does. It is about better teaching when we introduce new products to our teachers/students.

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arvind s. grover

I am a progressive educator, a podcaster (, a blogger, and dean of faculty of JK-11 school (building a high school) in New York City.