That’s the actual title of a book, not me being a bit irreverent.  I’ve been a fan of Kathy Sierra’s since I came across her work, e.g. I regularly refer to how she expresses ‘incrementalism‘. She’s on top of usability and learning in very important ways. And she’s got a new book out that I was pleased to read: Badass: Making Users Awesome.  So why do I like it?  Because it elegantly intermixes both learning and usability to talk about how to do design right (which I care about; I used to teach interface design besides my focus on learning design), but more importantly that the lessons invoked also apply to learning.

So what’s she doing differently?  She’s taking product design beyond marketing and beyond customer desires.  The premise of the book is that it’s not about the user and not about the product, it’s about the two together making the user more capable in ways they care about. Your audience should be saying “Look at what I can do” because of the product, not “I love this product”. This, she argues cogently, is valuable; it trumps just branding, and instead building customer loyalty as an intrinsic outcome of the experience they have.

The argument starts with making the case that it’s about what user goals are, and then figuring out how to get there in ways that systematically develop users’ capability while managing their expectations. Along the way, she talks about being clear on what will occur, and giving them small wins along the way.  And she nicely lays out learning science and motivation research as practical implications.

While she’s more focused on developing complex products with interfaces that remove barriers like cognitive load, and provide incremental capability, this applies to learning as well. We want to get learners to new capabilities in steps that maintain motivation and prevent drop-off. She gets into issues like intermediate skills and how to develop them in ways that optimize outcomes, which is directly relevant to learning design. She cites a wide variety of people in her acknowledgements, include Julie Dirksen and Jane Bozarth in our space, so you know she’s tracking the right folks.

It’s an easy read, too. It’s unusual, paperback but on weighty paper supporting her colorful graphics that illustrate her every point.  There’s at least an equal balance of prose and images if not more on the latter side.  While not focused specifically on learning design, it includes a lot of that but also covers performance support and more in an integrated format that resonates with an overall perspective on a performance ecosystem.

While perhaps not as fundamental as Don Norman’s Design of Everyday Things (which she references; and everyone who designs for anyone else needs to read), it’s a valuable addition to those who want to help people achieve their goals, and that includes product designers, interface designers, and learning experience designers.  If you’re designing a solution for others, whether a mobile app, an authoring tool, a LMS, or other, you do need this. If you’re designing learning, you probably need this. And if you’re designing learning as a business (e.g. designing learning for commercial consumption), I highly recommend giving this a read.

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