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Book Review: “Badass: Making Users Awesome”

Kathy Sierra’s latest book is a must-read for any product person.

The book’s premise is this: if we want to create bestselling, sustainably successful products or services, we have to shift our thinking from “making awesome products” to “making our users awesome”.

The path to long-term success and customer satisfaction is forged by giving our users the tools to succeed not just in using our product, but in the context in which they’re using the product. That is, if we’re making a video editing app, our goal should be for the user to be badass at producing great videos. This will lead to that user naturally recommending our product or service within her social circles and thus create a virtuous cycle of success.

Getting to being badass at some context is a journey for our users. It is a learning process that our product should enable. But as in learning any complex skill, it takes time and effort. That means that for a period of time, our users will go through a suck zone in their learning curve; a period where they feel the pain and effort they’re putting in isn’t worth it. That’s when we risk permanently losing them and when we should support them the most. Going over the suck threshold into the competent zone does not mean our users have become badass. They still have a long ways to go and there’s also the risk of getting stuck here, and losing interest over time. Our job is all about facilitating and supporting this learning process.

These ideas are then broken down in detail over the course of the book. They’re built up as a framework based on how experts learn their skillshow to help users move forward and how to ease the learning process. All of the suggested techniques are supported by scientific research in psychology and learning. That is also one of the perks you’ll get from this book: a great reading list to keep exploring these subjects.

You can get a taste of the book by watching these talks by Kathy at Business of Software in 2012 and 2013. Each of them is one hour long, but I seriously recommend you make the time to watch them. They’re worth every minute. Then go and buy the book. Really, it’s incredible.

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  • I so agree with you on every point! If we all listened to Kathy and did what she says there’d be a lot of better products out there.

    • Daniel Zacarias

      Most definitely. One of the things I loved most about the book is this sense that we’re not done when the feature / product is shipped. If we’re not helping our users succeed, then we’re not building sustainable (and positively-reinforced) relationships.