The Hi-Res User Experience

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🗓️ Publish Date
December 30, 2005
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Learning music changes music. Learning about wine changes wine. Learning about Buddhism changes Buddhism. And learning Excel changes Excel. If we want passionate users, we might not have to change our products--we have to change how our users experience them. And that change does not necessarily come from product design, development, and especially marketing. It comes from helping users learn.

Learning adds resolution to what you offer. And the change happens not within the product, but between the user's ears. The more you help your users learn and improve, the greater the chance that they'll become passionate.

What does it mean to say that someone is passionate about something? It's a lot like discussing porn--there's no clear definition, but you know it when you see it. Nobody refers to the guy who knows just two types of wine--red or white--as "passionate about wine." But the movie Sideways was about people who were passionate about wine. The point was not that they drank a lot of wine (although in the movie, they definitely did), but that they knew so much about it. They knew enough to appreciate and enjoy subtleties that are virtually inaccessible to everyone else.

It's the same way with classical or jazz music--learning about the music changes the music. What the music expert hears has more notes, more instruments, more syncopation... than what I hear when I listen to the same piece. Of course I don't mean the music technically changes, but if the way we experience it shifts, it is AS IF the music itself shifts.

And it's not just for hobbies. Think about a spreadsheet, for example. Joe Excel User can do the basics--calculations, pie charts, bar graphs, some reports. To Joe Excel User, the software is a tool for doing spreadsheets. But imagine Joe were to learn the deeper power and subtleties of not just the app itself, but the way in which the app could be used as, say, a modeling and simulation tool. For Joe, now, the software itself has transformed from a spreadsheet tool to a modeling and simulation tool. More importantly, the way Joe thinks as he uses the software also changes. Rather than approaching a session with Excel as a way to crunch some numbers, he sees it as a way to do predictions, forecasts, and systems thinking.

People are not passionate about things they know nothing about. They may be interested. They may spend money. But without the enhanced skill and knowledge that adds resolution, there is no real passion. At least not the kind we talk about (and aim for) here--the kind of passion we talk about when we say, "He is passionate about photography" or "She is passionate about animal rights" or even, "He is passionate about his Mac."

And a passion for one thing can spill over into a passion for life itself. And for many people, the loss of passion/desire for once-loved things is a clear symptom of clinical depression. For writer Larry McMurtry, the loss of passion for books (he's an antiquarian book collector when he isn't writing novels and screenplays) was one of the worst parts of the post-heart-surgery depression he experienced a decade ago. He simply stopped feeling that feeling. Books changed back--back to that state the non-book-passionate experience--and were simply old books. Fortunately, McMurtry recovered and regained his passion for books.

So, what can you change for people? Or rather, what can you help others change for themselves? How can you increase the resolution of the products and services you offer--without touching the products? That doesn't mean you can take any old piece of crap and by teaching people to become expert, magically transform it into a work of art. But if there's potential for a richer experience--an experience the non-passionate don't see, taste, hear, feel, smell, touch, or ever recognize...why not see if there's a way to help more people experience that?

And since I believe that passion requires learning, and that means we all have to become better "learning experience designers", I'm working on a big "crash course in the latest learning theory" post that summarizes most of the key principles, in one place (with pictures : )

2005 may be the year HD finally arrived for TV and video, I hope 2006 is the year of HD User Experiences. And it's up to us to make that happen.