Teaching users to cook.

Useful UX lessons learned from learning to cook.

As a UX designer and developer I’m always looking for experiences in the real world that can be applied to our products to enhance the experience of our users. One of those experiences, for me, is cooking. Taking raw editable components and seeing them come together into beautiful and harmonious creations is very fulfilling. I am far from a professional chef however I have experimented enough to understand the rewarding feeling that comes from cooking something new without a recipe. This does not happen overnight. I had my time with toaster waffles and TV dinners.

Likewise, users can learn how to use our products, similar to how many of us have learned to cook. Starting with a simple goal and growing that knowledge, eventually using the products in creative and unique ways.

Below are a few of the UX lessons I have learned from cooking. The examples discuss a website builder as the product however these lessons could be applied to any scenario.

  1. Start with one simple goal.
    A simple goal of satisfying your hunger can be easily achieved by popping a Stouffer’s into the microwave but we should all know that is not the healthiest route. The same goes for our users. Sure, with a few clicks we can use a website builder to generate a website, but if we stopped there every company would state their amazing expertise in “lorem ipsum dolor sit amet”.
  2. Further knowledge by providing steps for other common goals.
    Let’s face it, there comes a time when you become so sick of microwave diners and PB & J you literally cannot eat them again. The logical next step is to look up a recipe and begin cooking your own meals. Continuing with the website builder example, once users have hit the magical button to generate their website they need steps to add text, images, links etc.
  3. Make the user feel a sense of fulfillment.
    When you find a great recipe and have a few people try it out they often praise your cooking abilities and call you a chef. In the back of your mind you think “All I really did was follow three black-and-white steps and put a few ingredients in a bowl”. We can give this same sense of praise to our users. Generally most webpages would contain a paragraph of text and an image or two. Congratulate them with a simple, positive message when this has been done.
  4. Encourage learning from others.
    I love to go over to friends’ and family’s houses and watch them cook. I always see different techniques, new ingredients and family secrets which grow my own knowledge and understanding of food. The same goes for websites. There is always more to know and there are tons of articles, tutorials and knowledge we can be sharing with our users.
  5. Practice makes perfect.
    The more you cook the better it gets. You find healthy shortcuts, ways to enhance the flavor and enticing presentations of your dish. Remind your users to come back and try a new feature out or, more specifically, share tips on how to make images look better on their website.
  6. Become a master.
    I am by no means a master chef, however I have gown an appreciation for certain food combinations—combinations that have allowed me to develop some of my own creations. Allow your users the ability to achieve this same creativity. Give them pathways and encouragement to get there. This could be as simple as keyboard shortcuts, APIs or even a hypothetical “blank canvas” where users can take components of your product and put them together in new and unique ways.

Cooking only provides a few UX lessons from the real world. Many of these are common knowledge yet so many product experiences lack the necessary tools and feedback to make our users masters.

What other lessons can we find in the real word that would improve a users’ experience?