Photo by meddygarnet on Flickr

Can Your Users Win?

Designing a product that keeps people engaged requires thinking about how users win and lose

We all like to win. If we lose we might try a few more times but after a while we’ll usually give up. More products should be designed with this in mind.

For me winning is learning and sharing. When I grow up I want to be a professor but in the meantime Quora promised to fill that gap. And it solved a real problem too. Instead of having to come up with a blog post I could share knowledge to a self-selected audience that was literally spelling out what they want to learn. So I set out answering questions. And nothing happened. I got a few upvotes here or there and while I recently became aware of the Views tab (thanks Octav) it wasn’t a rewarding experience. There are people who are winning at Quora but I couldn’t figure it out, so I gave up.

Enter Medium. The promise of delivering your learnings to an audience that cares about quality and design. Sounds like my kinda crowd. I hashed out my first post on a topic that I care about, Communication Design — it felt like an overnight success. Now maybe I got lucky with Medium, or maybe I had more incentive to share the article in all it’s typographical splendour, but I instantly started getting emails saying people had recommended my post. When I logged into my stats I could see people were not just viewing but actually reading my post. It felt good. I felt like I was winning.

Here’s what I learned about these two experiences which you can use to design more engaging products:

  1. Define what “winning” is to your users
    Medium clearly defines winning on it’s stats page with views, reads, and recommendations. These are also things I inherently care about as they align with my own internal definition of “winning” which in this case is teaching.
  2. Design flows that help users get to a point where they “win”
    Medium helps you through constraint, the only features that exist are designed to help you win. They make it easy to create a beautiful post. They help you get feedback by inviting collaborators, who also get to “win” through being recognized. And they make it easy for people to recommend your post.
  3. Give users feedback so they can get better at “winning”
    The stats in Medium promise to help you understand which posts worked and which ones didn’t. Meanwhile, their help documents suggest that the most popular posts are 400 words in length. In the future I hope we’ll see even more guidance on crafting winning content.

Of course this all assumes you know what “winning” means for your customer. If you’re hunting for the answer, try looking at the intersection of your business objective and your user’s needs.


Do you design products? Say hi on Twitter @nikDOTca.
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