Simplify a Complex User Experience

Last year, one of my teams was tasked with creating the architecture for the next generation of a core enterprise application. Later, we had to also build the main features for that app.

New versions always turn out to be a lot harder to build than they should but this project was clearly going to have troubles. It needed to be executed on a narrow timeline but the organizational silos made it really hard to negotiate priorities and changes. We were working a lot closer to waterfall than we were to agile and the legacy systems had little to do with the new plans.

I can’t count how many things I heard that this project might not go live if we didn’t deliver at least two months before the roll-off date. The last two months were reserved for preparing training materials and to train employees.

It was not the first time they introduced major changes in this app, so they had a pretty streamlined process for training their teams. This training effort seemed to make sense for most people, but it did not for me.

We work on products that are launched to massive audiences with no training whatsoever. We build products that users can learn to use themselves. These products should be simple and intuitive.

I understand that not everyone is tech savvy or learns with the same ease, but my feeling is that the training should be embedded within the application itself.

You might read a quick tutorial when you start using a new product, but once you cover the basics only then can you measure how your audience is truly using it. You can analyze how the users are interacting with the system and teach them contextually how to make better use of it.

I like to build applications that encourage users to discover things for themselves, and provide ways to  do something better. I like reinforcing desired behavior.

Take a Peek at a Different Industry

Matias Rodriguez shared this talk with me in 2013’s Game Developer Conference. If you can’t spare an hour to watch it, I’ll summarize. Nasa explains how kids learned to command fictional star fleets using video games. While doing so they mastered very complex interfaces all by themselves

NASA realized how much money they were spending on their control centers, how much training they required, and how much harder to use these centers were.

This talk made me want to understand what is it that lowers the entry-level barrier on video games. I wondered how people naturally learn to handle such intricate User Experiences and make real-time live or die decisions.

There has to be something wrong with the way we’ve been doing things if a human resources system is harder to handle than a star fleet.

If you plan to spend money in massive or periodic training for your team, you must spend it by making your system a “living” manual. It shouldn’t offer generic and boring lessons, but instead it should understand what behavior needs to be changed and help the user to improve.

There are a lot of mechanics that games have that can help you achieve your goals. It is important to have knowledgeable people involved so that your plan is comprehensive. It is also important to make sure that you are not sending the wrong signals to your users. Don’t waste your time and money.

The Unexpected Partner

I remember reading an article on how good the word Patient perfectly describes the status of a sick person. Not only healing takes time, but also dealing with all the complexities and flaws that our health care systems add to the equation.

A few months ago, I had to work on a compliance solution for a client tied to health care. Patients were losing their patience while being treated. Obviously, that poor experience resulted in a bad relationship with the brand. I took a look at the existing proposals and felt connected with all those patients who felt lost. The original solution was building a mobile app for them.

We’ve all come a long way from our first mobile experiences and we have gotten to a point where doing something mobile is the default recipe to be closer to our clients. In this app, you had a heading, a landing page that was not useful, a mode selector, and of course a menu. Menus are one of the first things we put into an app even when we have no clue what we’ll fill them with.

The minute I saw this experience I could only think about who will train all these patients, and I knew we could do a lot better. I wanted to help these patients get the right information at the right time in order to reduce their anxiety.

For me, the right partner for a health company was within the gaming industry. Video games have mastered the mechanics that show progression. I could have tried to solve the problem with the little I know about it. I could have even googled and try to become an expert on the subject in an hour. Globant has a Gaming Studio where I could go and get a real expert so I did  not need to settle for an amateur level review.

Bringing a Martin Nanni as a game producer to the conversation radically changed the value proposition for our proposal. The patient was now directed to contextual information that provided real-time information. The patient saw a clear status and progression, but more importantly, they saw what to expect next. Once their anxiety was lowered, we built the social dynamics and provided tasks to increase awareness.

This was not the first time I was exposed to this process and I have to say I’m still surprised every time. The experience mapping process becomes a lot more natural, but what surprises me is that I always find new science I did not know about.

As a simple example, video games study the optimal interval for impulses to be delivered. This is a very significant factor to maximize engagement, and it affects other domains like for example Bingos. In a Bingo game, too short of a time between numbers being drawn will not let people play several boards at the same time, and that means the loss of potential revenue. In the other hand, too long of a wait time will get players too bored and will also affect the business.

Your team should be thinking of studying the way to optimize how impulses are going to be delivered into your gamified user experience. The gaming industry has evolved and mastered their space, so my advice when stepping into a gamification initiative is to look for people who know the science behind gamification.
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