This post is part of our “Crowdsourcing: Wisdom from the Community” feature which contains guest bloggers from the local Edinburgh Startup Community. This post from Gordon Guthrie, CEO of Hypernumbers.
Lets talk about magic. In my opinion one of the most important books for software developers is Magic By Misdirection by Dariel Fitzkee.
A magician does what he does by a combination of technical skill and psychologically controlling the spectator. He has what is known in the trade an attack. When you are trying to build a web experience for a user you need to create precisely such an attack.
You can regard the whole book as an extended essay on a simple journey. An ordinary person walks into a room where there is a magician and sits down and watches for 5 minutes.
Fitzkee then discusses how the magician can get that person on that journey to believe this, or that, and when and how the convincing is done, how to use other people in the room to convince.
This is what we do when we build web products – what Paul Graham calls designing for a stranger with their finger on the back button. How do we stop them from the pressing the back button? How do we control their mind so they do what we want?
I lent this book to a friend of mine. His business is conducting user surveys and his users would, on average, type 5 or 6 words into an input field and he needed to get them to write more – he was getting about a pound a word per user from his customer.
Reading Magic By Misdirection gave him permission to spend a whole day just thinking about that dialog box. By focussing on that box and trying to control the user’s mind he managed to get the average up to over 30 words.
He put some suggestions from other people in, their word count grew. He forbade his users to spend more than 5 minutes on it (they were spending less than 5 seconds before) – their fingers flew.
The topic of magic has been a big one for us here at Hypernumbers, as we’ve spent a lot of time on a classic trick—trying to make something big just disappear. In our case, the big thing we were trying to hide was the relative sophistication of our technology.
Our mission is to make web programming easy for non-programmers. We decided a long time ago to use the most widely used programming paradigm as the basis for our work: the spreadsheet. To accomplish this, we spent a huge amount of time trying to make our software interface as identical to Excel as possible.
When we went out to test the product with real users we discovered—to our delight—that although our users were interacting with a new product, the learning curve was easy because they thought they already knew it. Now that’s magic!
Gordon Guthrie is the CEO/CTO at hypernumbers