Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New column and lessons from the Dobro

I have a new column out in UXmatters: Architecting UA for Reuse: Case Examples in DITA.

Although I have owned a Dobro-like guitar for some years now, I just now got around to actually "studying" the correct techniques. Man! I had it all wrong. But the experience reminds me of a point my usability mentor, Loren Burke, used to make all the time. He observed that a common learning pattern was:
  1. This is easy.
  2. This is hard.
  3. This is easy.
I see/hear a new song on Youtube or on one of the instructional links and think, "Oh I can play that." I then start to learn it and find that the picking patterns are awkward and the guitar sounds like a pig being tortured. I was three days into a half-minute rendition of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and sounding like someone putting thumbscrews to Porky. Then I woke up Sunday morning, picked up the Dobro, and voila! I could play it.

So it looked and sounded easy as a naive novice; it became hard as a struggling novice; then suddenly expertise emerged and it was easy!

So how does user assistance help move a user from the naive "this is easy" to the expert "this is easy"?

I don't have a good answer to that one yet, but I know this: The secret to learning to play the guitar well is to enjoy playing it badly. This seems counter-intuitive, but the point is that you can only achieve the second level of "this is easy" through practice, practice, practice. So you have to somehow enjoy that "this is hard" period enough to keep coming back and eventually work through it.

So how do we convert this principle into a working model for product skills where users do not want to invest time and energy in the "this is hard" phase?

My hope is to figure that out and get rich. In the meantime, I'll enjoy that slide up on the B string to G and the following back roll drone for a while before tackling some new way to make Porky screech.


Warren Givens said...

It's interesting how you've tied the user experience to the guitar or Dobrp amd your exquisite explanation makes sense. Now if you can apply this to catching fish, life would be complete.

Mike Hughes said...

No giving out private secrets, Warren. I've told all my readers that I am "he whom fish fear."

Ted Kuster said...

I've noticed the same thing while studying the banjo. Sadly, my banjo lacks a Help button. But I'll make sure I bring it along to next year's STC convention anyway, to compare notes, as it were.

Mike Hughes said...

Warren pointed out in a private e-mail that what fish apparently fear is my hook. (As if you haven't guessed, Warren and I go fishing together and he catches a lot more fish than I do.)