How to design rules that work

Rules are ever present in our daily lives. We follow social rules, company rules, and laws. We create organizations by making sets of rules, we create deals and contracts all defined by rules. But very few people learn how to create rules. Most rules, don't work. As a former game designer, I've studied rules academically and tried and tested rules by the thousands. This is what I've learnt so far about creating rules that work.

Rules always create side effects

All rules are limitations on an individuals actions (a rule says you can't design text a certain way). But since people are surprisingly intelligent, they always find ways around rules (the rule creates a counter culture and suddenly hipster typographical posters abound!). We smile at this behaviour in kids, always looking for ways to get around bedtimes, but we fail to see that every human does this. It's so ingrained in the human condition it even has a name in both game design and economics: emergent behaviour.

Emergent behaviour means the behaviour that arrives as an unforeseen consequence to a situation. Cheating at games is an emergent behaviour. Rebellion is an extreme emergent behaviour.

Rules always - without exception - create these unforeseen behaviours because rules are *fractal*. Meaning that rules can never cover every single situation or twist in the language. There will always be new situations the rule should apply to.

- Did you brush your teeth? - Yes. - Did you brush them with the toothbrush? - Yes. - Did you put toothpaste on the toothbrush? - Yes. - Before you brushed your teeth? - No...

When I create rules I try to take emergent behaviour into account, where and how is it likely to happen?, How will the rule affect situations that are slightly different from the normal situation? How often does your management or project manager take emergent behaviour into account when creating rules? If the answer is never, the rules are probably not working.

Family rules

The softest touch works, while hard rules fail

Surprisingly, the rules that do work aren't the simple and direct ones. In fact the simpler and more direct the rule is, the more emergent behaviour it creates.

Let me explain how by giving an example. If you set a rule for yourself that you must turn left at every intersection you'll soon find yourself in conflict with the rule. You might quite quickly arrive at the workaround that the rule doesn't say how many times to turn left, and from then on you'll be turning left several times to turn right. I bet you're thinking of other rules you're breaking in this way?

But if the rule says you can only turn left at intersections it is much more open to interpretation, and oddly individuals are more inclined to follow it. Maybe I'll turn right somewhere that's not an intersection? Or maybe taking a route around the block will be interesting? The more open version of the rule makes the rule more interesting and less annoying.

What's happening is that activating individuals minds, asking people to judge for themselves, is making them more inclined to work with the system instead of around it. Asking individuals to just follow a rule is more likely to make them bored, frustrated,  and opposed to the rule. No matter how normal and simple the rule might seem.

This is why companies like to talk about corporate culture. A culture is simple a set of rules that are not defined, instead the individuals in a culture make it up or pass it along as they go. Culture is a very soft set of social rules, and a great way to lead a group of people in the same direction. It is also very hard to create, because it is soft and made up by the individuals in the culture. And as soon as someone puts pen to paper, the culture is dead. The air of cooperation will be replaced by bored people following the rules.

(Creating cultures is also a part of designing games, and deconstructing culture is essential to economics, so I'll probably revisit culture in a later post.)

Rules limit what people think

The absolutely worst part of a rule is when it's followed. Beware of people following hard rules, it never amounts to any good.

If a hard rule is enforced, or socially frowned upon to break, it swiftly becomes a dogma. A rule that is set so hard in individuals minds that they can not break it. Not only are they unable to break the rule, they might even be unable to think about breaking the rule.

We see this happening at all times, all around us. Ever wonder why senior citizens are more often against change? It's because they have lived with an unquestioned rule for so long, it has become impossible for them to see a world without the rule. The same thing happen with middle managers, unable to alter a rule themselves, and unable to see the effects of them, they stay with rules long after the intended purpose has become irrelevant.

The really worrying part comes from cognitive psychology. Studies seem to indicate that living with the same thoughts for to long actually create rigid structures in your physical brain. Yes, I'm serious. The brain is a huge network of neurons, always making new connections. But living with the same connections, thoughts, for long enough might physically inhibit new connections being made. That's right, hard rules might actually be shutting down small parts of our brains!

No wonder change comes so slowly right? (For more on the subject, google "Neuro plasticity")

rules

Creating rules that work

From my years in games and economics I've learned a lot of ways not to make rules. But at times we need them, no matter how hard they may be to create. If we're aware of the pitfalls and careful, we can create rules that work.

Here's a list of rules that I follow when creating rules (rule-ception?):

  • Communicate the outcome of your rule, not the limitations (the rule itself).
  • Think up situations that might warp the rules, and take it to extremes.
  • Think about how the rule will affect things when it's purpose is no longer relevant.
  • Remember that rules are used by at least two groups of people: individuals, and groups.
  • Never punish rule breaking. If you must punish, punish for outcomes.
  • Try to be vague. Trust people to interpret rules intelligently.

What makes a product good

Sit up straight, I'm about to explain the secret sauce behind exceptional products. There is a difference between products that perform poorly and products that perform well that is hard to put your finger on. Designers have been struggling to tell you about it for years. But it turns out it's not the answer that is the problem, it's the question. The question is: Is it enjoyable? It's the difference between functional and great.

For a long time now the tech industry has been struggling with paradigms. Is your product technology driven or design driven? Are your most important people engineers or designers? The pendulum swings every five years or so.

Google is a company driven by engineers, they solve problems. Apple is a company driven by designers, they make experiences. Which company makes the better product? Android or iPhone? For years, journalists and salesmen have been asking the wrong questions, and coming to all the wrong conclusions.

Customers buy products for their features. But they keep them for the experience.

No one doubts that features are important. Every retail box is crammed with specs and every review seems to compare products on feature lists. But features are not what makes customers buy. When you buy a kitchen knife, you probably just grab a cheap one to get the job done, right? But the next time you buy one, you'll be more likely to invest in quality because it feels better to use, the old one became dull quickly or chipped. Your enjoyment of the product starts to make an impact in your purchase.

What is that enjoyment worth? If your first knife cost $5, would you buy a better one for $50?

Android phones were crappy when Android was first released. Mostly because Android was crap. Google spent millions making sure Android had every feature that the iPhone had. Every function was matched. Every look that could be copied was copied. Samsung even went so far as to make extremely similar phones and UI-skins. But oddly, the consumers were not using Android phones like they did iPhones. App sales were low, internet usage was non-existant.

Only then did the engineers at Google realize that the secret sauce in the iPhone wasn't so much features, but the experience. Still they couldn't put their finger on what they lacked. They had to hire a new manager, a designer, to tell them what to do. Now Android is becoming enjoyable to use, app sales are skyrocketing and internet usage is on the rise. People are using their Android phones for the first times.

Enjoyment is hard to bottle. It can't be checked off on a scrum board or a todo list. It's the sum of all the parts. And even worse, it costs money. You can't just finish a feature, you have to iterate on all the parts until they fit together. (To read more about enjoyment or fun, visit my blog on Gamification: Adding the Fun.)

The sooner we start asking the right question the better. What if startups focused on making their features enjoyable instead of just functional? It'd cost more, but their churn would be less and they would get more interest.

Right now the market is focusing on design. Designers are in high regard and design is the measuring stick of the tech industry. But because most companies and organisations still don't understand this crucial piece of secret sauce, designers will become another checklist on the project management chart. Is it designed? Yes. Tick the box.

If the question had been: is it enjoyable? The answer would have been different. The product would end up different and the market reaction would as well. Next time you read a review, don't look at the feature list or the score. Find the sentence where the author says if he/she liked it or not.

It's time to make sure we start asking the right questions and stop looking at features or design as checkboxes.

This list of questions can help you start:

  1. Does the feature work?
  2. Does it work every time and in every circumstance?
  3. Is it enjoyable?
  4. Is it enjoyable even when you're in a hurry?

If the answer to any of the questions is no, you need to start over.

Like Steve Jobs so eloquently put it "Design is how it works". Sadly, he didn't stick around to explain how anyone could check for that emotion.

Ask the question: Is it enjoyable?

A UX review of Clear, todo list manager of the future

Meet Clear, the todolist manager that does everything right.

Clear for iPhone from Realmac Software on Vimeo.

Intuitive interface

Clear has no interface. It just uses swipes pinches and touches in a list the same as you would on an image. While there is no such thing as intuitive, this is as close as I've ever seen.

But the best part about clear is it's use of color and sounds.

Use of color for information

Colors are used in the lists to show priority. The more saturated the color, the more important the task. Now the tasks are already in a list, so one could argue that adding colors to it is redundant. But this is not true. Any human scanning a list will see each item as equally important. Most of us tend to try and put the most important thing at the top of the list but every time we look at the list we still browse more than one item.

Making the list colored gives a subtle hint that you don't need to look at other tasks. This is the one.

It also gives the user a reason to order the list properly. While the app never tell the user they have to, just creating a rule that says the top is higher priority will make users want to use the rule. Think of it like a hidden keyboard shortcut. Once you learn it, if it's a valuable shortcut, you stick with it.

Sounds that make it fun

Audio feedback has been used to great effect in games for decades. Which is why I've always found it odd that it's had such little attention in software tool design. Until now.

Clear has a sound effect for every function.

New item? Pop.

Clear app: adding tasks

Finished item? Ping!

Clear app: completing tasks

Delete item? Swoosh

Clear app: deleting tasks

But I really mean sound effect. These aren't just midi notes annoyingly stacked to make an awful racket.  These are effects that sound great by themselves and stack neatly. What do I mean by stack? If you complete several tasks in a row, you don't just get an annoying amount of pings. You'd hate that. Instead you get a rising scale of pings that together seem to form a rising crescendo. Which incidentally is exactly like the normal sound design to gaining point in video games (remember picking up coins in Mario?)

UPDATE: The awesome sound design was done by Josh Mobley.

Getting out of the way

The reason the design of Clear is so impressive is that, while the UI reinforces the users positive emotions of using a todo list, it get's out of the way to let the users focus on thinking about tasks.

There's simply nothing else to think about. And you won't get those soothing sounds of completion if you don't complete some tasks.

Summary, or: is it awesome?

Clear is the best interface for getting things done I've seen so far. On any platform. It's also responsive like few apps on iOS.

It does gamification right by letting the user learn it's features intuitively and reinforcing the actual use of the product instead of showering them in useless badges.

Sadly however, it also really doesn't have a use. At least not for a todo-list power user such as myself. Enter a 100 tasks into Clear and you'll be looking at an infinite list with no overview. There's no search, there are no smart lists. But these features would not improve the product. In fact, I think including more features could destroy the product.

If you use lists often but don't have 1000 tasks in them. This app will make you smile on your way.

If you use really long lists, this app will be nice to play with but not useable.

Should you buy it? YES. If only to support good design.

 

 

As usual, the Verge has the best video first look:

Quora - win or fail? A User Experience study

I recently was asked to check out Quora again. This time from a UX standpoint. I found a lot of strange design decisions and an almost crazy implementation of "Gamification" so I thought I had to share it: Quora logo

First Impression

What does this do? Quora is a mess of questions. That's a good thing. But it's also a mess of features. There is no real overview to how the service is supposed to be used nor how the features fit together to create a whole. It feel like a mess of somewhat related features that have been randomly added to a wiki.

User feedback loops

All services and products intended to be used more than once work because their is a loop in user interaction. After we've done what we came for we're back at the start and can do it again.

Feedback loops is a way to look at how feedback is introduced in the loop to keep users going forward and using the product. Quora does this really strangely.

There are two ways to understand what happens in a loop, one is to look at emotional impact or internal steps in the process from the point of view of the user. This is called the intrinsic loop. The other is to look at the service's constructed steps from the point of the user. This is called the extrinsic loop.

Intrinsic

The value in looking at both of these is to see where they meet and reinforce each other. So how does the intrinsic loop look?

answer questions -> gain social proof in form of replies, votes and followers -> answer ranks higher on lists of answers -> return

This loop works well. Interacting with the site gives you a sense of communicating with other users. Though notifications are bad and it's hard to really understand what is happening, there is a definite sense of activity spawned from other users interacting with your content.

Extrinsic

So how does the extrinsic feedback loop look?

Add information (unidentified) -> earn points -> use points to request answers -> no return

Basically it adds points but not to obvious steps in the loop. In fact, Quora only seems to add points for adding information. But Quora doesn't tell us why, how much or for what we earn these points.

This is an extrinsic loop set up to give users rewards for interacting that doesn't reward user for interacting. What went wrong here? Quora is giving out points for interacting with Quora, but not with other users.

The problem is humans don't think of services as independent entities and don't expect to interact with services, humans expect to interact through services. Another problem is that these rewards aren't reinforcing the intrinsic loop but instead starts rewarding an entirely different behavior. And last but not least, there is no clear end or way to start again from when you receive rewards. Rewards are doled out in the middle of the intrinsic feedback loop.

Gamification or What Bumblebees feel about Bicycles

Points. Just add points and it's a game. Just add points and the weird statistical exercise has miraculously turned into "fun"! Right? No. That's not how it works, you can read all about how to add the fun here. But Quora doesn't care about that, you get points for adding content but aren't told when or how much. There doesn't seem to be a differentiation between how you add content, you simply receive an arbitrary amount of points.

There's only one way to use points. You can pay others to answer questions. That's it. You can't even compare your points to another users.

Quora app icon

Summing up

Quora is awesome. What makes it awesome is the high level of interest from other users. The problem is, Quora does little of anything to enhance this. More often it gets in the way.

The service quickly became famous for supplying answers from high level CEOs and business savvy high performers. Sadly though, it took me hours to find any such answer. It took me hours just to find some interesting questions.

The random points thrown in just increases perception of randomness. Quora is a great idea, close to a good product. Over designed and under thought. It's confusing as hell and weird to use. But if you're lucky you can at least get some answers. Just don't expect the question to be the same one you had in mind from the start...

The Gamification of SIME

Orginially posted on the official SIME blog SIME is a Swedish Conference on web, tech and startups. Where great speakers entertain for two days and investors and entrepreneurs mingle over coffee and champagne.

SIME 2011 was a flurry of great speaker on a wide area of subjects. While the set theme for SIME was "Passion Wins" another theme running through the conference was going mobile. Gamification was subtly introduced to the SIME audience in a panel on Gamification and marketing. Possibly to set the stage for a larger presence next year.

But what exactly is Gamification and how does it tie in with SIME 2011? Gamification is the process of using game mechanics in non-game products and services. I am not talking about  3D characters or scoring points here however. Games have matured in relative obscurity thought the years to become one of the worlds largest entertainment forms, aimed mostly at adults. The foundations ofwhat makes a good game are similar and equally complex as what makes a great brand. The psychology or rewards have been used in training and products over the years, but only games have really delved deep and explored the territory. Pacing and storytelling in a product where there is no story is also only really explored in the games industry. Science and design based on concepts like these are migrating from games into "normal" products.

This is Gamification. And oddly, ties in excellently to SIMEs central theme.

The Passion of Gamification Passion Wins. That theme was presented by Ola in his welcoming speech and it was central to almost all the talks at SIME. From presentations from promising startups, among them iZettle - the mobile payment solution, to using brain scans for better marketing there was not a presenter on stage that lacked passion. But how do we reach passion in our users or customers? While every panel spoke of the importance to engage users and inspire passion there was only one that talked about how thats done.

Panel on Gamificiation A panel consisting of Elísabet GrétarsdóttirEve OnlineJohan Sjöberg, founder Starstable, and Robin TeiglandStockholm School of Economics, joined Ola on stage to discuss the most popular buzzword of the day.

The panel wasn't that impressed with the term Gamification for starters. Elisabet described it as working with motivation in marketing to engage the audience, hopefully getting them to participate. Johan joined in saying that the term might be a misnomer, that the term Playification might be more appropriate. Since the focus is on engagement but not at all games.

"we are playful creatures" - Elísabet Grétarsdóttir, SIME 2011

The panel was in agreement that playfulness was important for humans, adding fun to anything should be possible. The panel highlighted experiments with gamification in education and Elisabet even made a pitch to add creative interaction in the fashion industry.

If we are playful creatures, play should be a great way to engage our users. Right?

Going mobile with gamification As I mentioned earlier another trend runnings through the entire conference was going mobile. Google spoke of being a mobile first company, Ericsson spoke about communicating in a world where every device is interconnected. But what does this have to do with gamification?

Throughout SIME we heard speakers talk about new paradigms and the web/app divide. Essentially mobile web is taking over and has a different set or boundaries than the desktop web. So how to we make sure our mobile interfaces are good enough and engaging users? You know where I'm going with this aren't you?

Mobile interfaces is a perfect place to start adding the fun.

Summing up gamification at SIME 2011 The passion at SIME was amazing. The energy was great. The game we played at the conference, bad. Basically we're all looking into how to engage and interact with people through digital mediums. The only industry that has really done it is the games industry. Moving their knowledge to the rest of the web is gamification. Elisabet doesn't think it's through external motivation. Ola thinks it might have something to do with horses.

The only thing we know is: however it's done, it's going mobile.

 

Jesper Bylund is a Game Designer / Interaction Designer who blogs about Gamification on Adding the Fun.com

UPDATE: Added a short explanation of what SIME is, thanks to @kenneth_aa for making me realize it was needed.

Elisabet Grétarsdóttir explains Gamification at SIME 2011

The last day at SIME, Sweden's largest digital/web conference in Stockholm, a panel of guests took to the stage to have a panel discussion about gamification. Gamification is the latest and greatest buzz word in a long line of hype from digital marketing companies. But gamification is different because unlike social media and the like the Gamification concept is loaned from the hugely profitable games industry.

At SIME this year the panel consisted of representatives from World of Horses Online, CCP games and an associate professor from the Stockholm School of Economics. The topic was gamification and was simply introduced as the concept of using mechanics and design from the games industry to market products and services in non entertainment industries.

Elisabet, from CCP games, really gave a show with clear and consice ideas about gamification. She started off by describing the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. An extrinsic motivator, which are mostly used in gamification today, are external rewards given to the player for achieving certain tasks. Such as points to shoot a bird accurately or a badge to check in at a location An intrinsic motivator is an internal reward the player experiences because he/she achieves something in the context of the game. Internal rewards are feelings based on. Social recognition or completing a challenge.

One of her most memorable quotes was saying she'd like to Gamify the games industry by moving from extrinsic to intrinsic motivators.

Another one was a sharp critique to enforced seriousness while stating a point about humans being playful creatures:

why can we hug at a soccer game but not in the board room?

Elisabet also rocked the end of the panel by giving an example of how she would revolutionize boutique shopping by gamifying a H&M shop into a "minecraft retail experience" to, in her own words, "create a platform for creativity and self expression".

The audience and the panel alike seemed almost shocked by the simple truths laid out by Elisabet on gamification. I bet that if she has any say, gamification will be less of a buzz word and more of a business strategy from now on. One can only hope.

PS I'm writing this on an iPad balanced on my knee while I'm eating so if this post is in shambles, please check back in an hour or so and I'll try to polish the turd.

Update 1 Robin from the Stockholm School of Economics mailed me an update, apparently I got both her school and her title wrong.. Sorry Robin, keep up the great work!

Gamification at SIME 2011

Second day of SIME 2011 coming up and today, finally, we'll get into the nitty and gritty of gamification with a talk from CCP's Elísabet Grétarsdóttiroi, global strategist for marketing. Hopefully this will be awesome. I'll be live tweeting the event all day and half the night and writing about what she and the other speakers had to say as soon as possible.

So visit again soon for updates.

update CCP link works now! Sorry about that.

SIME Stockholm day 1

A week ago I was contacted by Bloggbyrån to be a theme blogger for SIME, Sweden's largest web/tech conference. I would write about how the conference talked about and around gamification. I've been talking gamification since I started studying game design, long before it became a buzzword, so how could I refuse? My first day here and I'm amazed Normally the Swedish conferences are timid and partly boring events as the swedes are quite reserved and the production values are quite low. Not so at SIME. The production values are through the roof and people are talking fast to get around the room. None of them make it.

The topics are wide but the theme is central The speakers here at SIME are varied and well drilled, no slow moments for the audience. From representatives of the BBC to new web startups to multinational investors playing the piano somehow it all ties in neatly with our moderator Ola Ahlvarsson's set theme: "Passion Wins!".

My head is buzzing Not from the champagne but from the pace. The comedian wrapping up spotted my tweet and made me a bit and none of us can move more than 3 feet without talking to someone. This is not the usual environment for a Swede and for anyone interested in entrepreneurship it's amazing.

Tomorrow is another day Of SIME and with the schedule ahead of me it seems to be even more packed than today. Right now this rundown is the best I can do. Now I'm off to the bar to find out if there is more champagne and anyone interested in discussing gamification.

One more thing I was apparently the most active twitterer today, even after the comedian made fun of me, and my tweets were picked up by a Swedish newspaper and retweeted widely. Dagens media - de leder SIME twittrandet

Adding the Fun

I decided to start a new project that is closer to my heart than anything for the passed three years. A blog dedicated to explore gamification and game theory for products. Originally meant to be a short book I decided doing the research and most of the writing as a blog might help the project along. Who knows, it might actually be better for it.

You'll find it continuously updated over on Tumblr: Adding The Fun