Enterprise Playability, Gamification, User Experience

Getting Lost in the Software: Context, Part 1

contextI’m a great driver. Well, I’m a pretty good driver. I’ve had some accidents, but they were all a long time ago. In the last millennium. And that’s like a thousand years.

But that’s not the point. I’m a pretty good driver, but I’m a bad navigator. I get lost. I rely heavily on GPS and Google Maps and Apple Maps and that weird navigation app in my car. I get turned around. I come up over the rise expecting to see the ocean in the distance, but I see downtown.

It seems to happen suddenly. I’m driving along, on streets I know, doing fine. I take a turn one block too early, and end up somewhere new. I don’t panic; I keep driving, looking for a new route back to familiar territory. Then suddenly I realize I have no idea where I am, or even which direction I’m headed.

The story gets boring fast: Google Maps saves the day, and I get back on track. But that’s not the point either.

This is, obviously, all about software. About user experience. About that point we have all gotten to in a UI where we suddenly don’t know where we are, which direction we are headed, or how to get where we want to go. But in software there’s no Mekhi Phifer Google Maps. Well, OK. There is. But that’s not the point.

The point is that people get lost in software. They lose track of where they are, how they got there, and how to get back on track. They push a button, submit a form, click on a menu, and suddenly things change from comfortably familiar to new and confusing. People hate that. I hate that.

It’s all about context. When I’m driving around town I am always — either consciously or unconsciously — looking for familiar things: streets, buildings, hills, lakes, oceans, mountains, Starbucks, whatever. These are my reference points. My context. I know where I am because I recognize that Starbucks. It’s the one without a drive-through. I hate that.

Context, that collection of familiar reference points that keep us from feeling lost, is sadly missing in a lot of software, especially enterprise software. It is often difficult to determine the following:

  • Where you are
  • Where you came from
  • Where you are going
  • How you get there from here

You know you’re lost in the software when you’ve just clicked on something, and suddenly everything familiar has gone away. Maybe a screen popped up in front of the screen you were on. Maybe something on screen disappeared. Or maybe you found your way into a new section of the software, but don’t know how to get back.

So you keep driving. You poke around, you hunt through menus, you even try right-clicking, because then you get what’s called a “context menu,” which should give you context, right? Yeah, no. You quit and restart the software. Sometimes it works, and you find your way. But all the while you’re wondering what happened, and you’re not sure exactly how to avoid it happening again (or what to do next time).

The problem is a lack of context. When there are not familiar reference points, and no indicators of which way to go next, getting lost is inevitable. Software lets you down by not giving you what you need, by not telling you what you need to know. Software could be so much better.

Let’s go off-road for a moment, and talk about video games (because that’s what we do; that’s all we do). Video games have a tendency to get context right. In most games it’s easy to find your way. The sign-posts are clear, the visual queues tell you exactly where you are, and often a game will actually push you in the right direction. Many games even talk you through the hard parts. They’re like Google Maps that way. I love that.

Think about it. How many times have you started a brand new video game, and within minutes or even seconds of starting the game, you can figure the following:

  • This is you
  • That’s your friend
  • You are here
  • Your friend is over there
  • You want to get over there
  • Here’s how you get there

And, while we’re at it, you quickly figure these out, too:

  • Here’s what you have
  • Here’s what you can do with it
  • Here’s what you want to get
  • Here’s what you’ll need to do to get it

In typical enterprise software there is no you, there is no friend (not even a co-worker), and there is rarely any indicator of where you want to go or what you want to do. There is only:

  • Here’s a menu
  • Here’s a widget

So we get lost. We all do, eventually. Not just the pretty good drivers, like me.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. Enterprise software could, in fact, get so much better. The solution is to learn from video games how to show your users where they are, where they want to go, and how to get there from here.

In the next few posts on Enterprise Playability we will discuss how to show your users where they are, where they want to go, and how to get there from here. Some of the ideas will include modern improvements on the breadcrumb trail, knowing where your users are going before they do, and literally installing Google Maps in your software.

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Enterprise Playability, Gamification

Motivation: What Makes Us Feel Good About Our Work?

Dan Ariely’s TED talk is a good one. It’s very straightforward, and gives some good ideas about what motivates people. It can be especially helpful when considering a rewards system within enterprise software. It’s important to think beyond the money that workers (our users) are rewarded with. The challenge is to include things like meaning, creation, challenge, ownership, identity, and pride. That notion — that we need more than just payment as motivation — is at the heart of enterprise playability.

Gamification

Real Rewards?

The question comes up often in designing gamified systems: Are the rewards actually worth anything? Can I trade then in for something?

Great article addressing the topic: Motivating Through Games.

At MOC1 we ran an experiment on this very topic, to see if rewards with little or no value (we used Post-It notes, each with a star scribbled on it) worked as a motivator. The experiment was short-lived, but highly successful. Team members responded brilliantly.

The notes themselves were posted to a bulletin board, under the names of the team members who earned them. So it was a leaderboard. It was clear that the notes themselves weren’t what people wanted, but rather to see a stack of stars under their names, and to have more than their teammates.

The team also responded well to Post-It stars given to the team on days when everyone on the team earned a star.

At one point one of the team members approached me to ask “Are these stars worth anything? Can we trade them in for something?” I just said “Right now I’m not sure.” It had no effect, positive or negative, on anyone’s behavior.

Our conclusion was that seemingly empty rewards are a strong motivator, when shown in a leaderboard.

Enterprise Playability

Motivation and Ease of Use

motivation_iconThe key components of Enterprise Playability are gamification and video-game-like usability. When designing an app with EP, a couple of important  questions must be addressed early on: What should users be rewarded for? And which functionality should be playable? Two of the fundamentals of EP are:

  1. Make it easy for users to meet their own goals
  2. Reward users for meeting business goals

Understanding user goals is just as important as understanding business goals. In user-centered design, designers must capture and design for both. 

Great video games are easy to play because they make it easy for users to understand what to do and how to do it. They keep users engaged by rewarding for meeting specific goals. Think of an arcade shooter: You pick up a gun and shoot at stuff. Fun! Easy to get! Your simple user goals (“shoot stuff,” “blow stuff up”) are easy to achieve. Your score, however, is tied to shooting the right stuff, and also not shooting the old lady holding a bag of groceries. Those are the business goals, and you get points when you get them right. 

In an enterprise app, core functionality should support the primary goals of the users, and make them easy to achieve . Rewards should motivate users to meet business goals. Think of a point of sale app. The user wants to inform customers, make sales, and get a big fat commission check. Management wants to sell more of the high-margin items, capture customer phone numbers for follow-up contact, and keep customers coming back. 

So the easiest activities in the app should be:

  • Sell stuff
  • Get information about stuff
  • Sell more stuff

Rewards should be for:

  • Selling the right stuff
  • Capturing customer contact info
  • Repeat visits from happy customers 

The end result is happy users who are excited about doing their best to meet business goals. 

Enterprise Playability

Goal-driven Design + Gamification = Playability

Enterprise gamification is getting a lot of attention these days (more on that later). The value of gamification is clear enough: engage users and motivate them by providing the same feedback mechanisms that games do. Goal-driven design, the idea that software should be designed to help users achieve their goals, is extremely popular for consumer products, but still only rarely practiced in enterprise environments.

It’s the combination of the two that gets me excited. When enterprise software is designed with full adherence to both of these concepts, the results can be astounding. Imagine software that is built with an understanding of exactly what you need to get done — what you want to do, and what your management wants you to accomplish. And imagine then that the software is built in a way that keeps you engaged all the time, trying hard to get to that next achievement, the next milestone, the next level.

Software, even enterprise software, can be built in such a way that users don’t feel like users, but like players. Work may not actually be a game, but making a game of it could make it so much better.