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On My Mind


Issue 15

This issue is long overdue because I've been preoccupied with a big redesign of MailChimp. When redesigning an app used by millions, helping existing customers make a smooth transition is really important. Now that we've got some distance from the launch and customers have settled in, our focus has shifted to new users and refinement of the on boarding experience.
The blank slate view of your app is rarely seen by design and development teams who work in environments with lots of data. But new users start with nothing. Empty states are critical to help users find their way, and shape their mental model of your app. Teaching new users about your app requires a delicate balance between being helpful, and getting out of their way so they can explore.
The on boarding experience is at its best when users can quickly form a mental model of the workflow, feel invested by creating or importing content, and feel positive emotions of productivity or empowerment.
Designing a great on boarding experience is tough. Your marketing site needs to set expectations well and foreshadow the experience so customers have a leg up when they sign in. Every page in your app must be designed to guide new users, offering contextual, just-in-time education. And support materials need to serve the new user as well as the veteran.
It's a tall order, and a tricky workflow to study. How do you find a potential user who's motivated to start using your app, but hasn't signed up so you can directly observe their workflow? They're a rare breed.
We're taking a different approach at MailChimp. We send a short survey to new folks asking where they've struggled when setting up their account, then we set up follow up interviews with anyone who's shared a particularly enlightening perspective.  
Because the challenges of on boarding have been on my mind these past weeks, I'm sharing with you a compendium of articles that explore the issue in depth. Have you recently used an app that had a stellar on boarding experience, or stumbled upon interesting articles on the topic? Hit reply to this email and share. I'd love to hear from you.

Riding the Magic Escalator of Acquired Knowledge

“The Magic Escalator of Acquired Knowledge represents all the knowledge the user can have about the design. When they are at the bottom, they know very little about the design, and when they are at the top, they know everything there is to know about it.”

Customers are Guests

“We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little bit better.”
- Jeff Bazos

The Usage Lifecycle

“As users interact with your product or service, they proceed through a series of steps called the usage lifecycle. The usage lifecyle is a mapping of the user’s experience with your design. Like other lifecycles, the usage lifecycle has a beginning, middle, and an end, each of which are characterized by different behaviors and goals. Though they be similar in every other way, people act very differently in each stage of the lifecycle.”

Your App Males Me Fat

“If your UX asks the user to make choices, for example, even if those choices are both clear and useful, the act of deciding is a cognitive drain. And not just while they're deciding... even after we choose, an unconscious cognitive background thread is slowly consuming/leaking resources, 'Was that the right choice?'
If your app is confusing and your tech support / FAQ isn't helpful, you’re drawing down my scarce, precious, cognitive resources. If your app behaves counter-intuitively – even just once – I'll leak cog resources every time I use it, forever, wondering, 'wait, did that do what I expected'. Or let's say your app is super easy to use, but designed and tuned for persuasive brain hacks ('nudges', gamification, behavioral tricks, etc.) to keep me 'engaged' for your benefit, not mine (lookin' at you, Zynga)... you've still drained my cognitive resources.
And when I back away from the screen and walk to the kitchen...
Your app makes me fat.”

Basecamp Blank Slates

“An oldie but a goody. "The blank slate is a screen you see when a data-rich app has no data. For example, if you’re using a tool to manage your projects, but you don’t have any projects in the system yet, you’d be looking at a blank slate. It’s important that the application designer consider this state carefully — you don’t want people staring at an empty screen. A blank slate should help someone get started.”

Understanding the Kano Model: A Tool for Sophisticated Designers

“Years ago, we came across the work of Noriaka Kano, a Japanese expert in customer satisfaction and quality management. In studying his writing, we learned about a model he created in the 1980s, known as the Kano Model.
This model predicted the reaction of users as the key elements of Flickr's personalized homepage propagated to other web sites. It predicted why users were initially delighted and why the delight faded over time.”

The MailChimp UX Newsletter

Every other week the UX team that I lead shares stories of research, design, and development from the front lines at MailChimp.
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On The Road

I'll be speaking at the following events in the coming weeks:
Aug 20-23: UX Week
San Francisco, CA
Aug 22: Designers + Geeks
Yelp HQ, San Francisco, CA

A Design Primer

The lovely folks at Readmill recently asked my what design books influenced me the most. You'll find my recommended reading list for design newbies and veterans on their blog.
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