The figure below illustrates a phenomenon known as the "j-curve." Dotted line "x" represents the user's current state of proficiency using the current tool or technology. Dotted line "y" represents the user's potential new level of proficiency with a tool or technology innovation. Hooray, look at how much better the innovation will make us!!!
Uh, what's that nasty little dip at the beginning all about? What's up with that? Well, that's the reality of the j-curve; it reminds us that we go from one moment being very proficient with our current tool or technology to being pretty stupid with the new one. This is why I hate doing upgrades, I go from smart to stupid in the time it takes to click "Install Now." They might as well relabel the button:
How bad the dip gets is indicated by the distance labeled "A." I am working on a current project where one of the managers named that area "the valley of suck." How much better the new proficiency (or user experience will be) is indicated by the distance labeled "B."
So the basic question every user ends up answering is Was the improvement labeled "B" worth the pain and humiliation labeled "A?"
ExampleI recently sat through a presentation where Tom Gorski, STC Director of Communication, demonstrated what the new electronic version of our magazine Intercom would be like.
My first reaction was "bright and shiny, cool" but then very quickly as I watched Tom click this, mouse over that, and a variety of other user interactions, I felt a dip in my enthusiasm--along the lines of "Gee, ten seconds ago I knew how to read a magazine, seems I don't any more."
Then I began to realize that with this new kind of magazine came a new level of power, due to new ways to navigate, search, drill down, and email snippets to friends that did not come with Intercom as I know it and love it today. I also saw how advertisers could provide links in their ads. Hmm, double thrill here. As a board member my first reaction was, great! added value to advertisers (more STC revenue), and as a reader I was equally pleased. As with most professionals, I find vendors to be a major channel of professional education. That's why the Expo hall has become such a mainstay of professional conferences. Being able to click over to their web sites would be a positive for me.
In short, as I better understood my potential new value distance of "B," I became more willing to tolerate "A."
Take-awaysA couple of lessons come out of all of this:
- As technical communicators, we need to help users understand the improvement represented by distance "B." This means overviews of upgrades and new technologies must be benefit-oriented and situated in user contexts. Help make that formula B/A more acceptable by making B bigger.
- As technical communicators, we need to minimize the pain represented by distance "A" through good user assistance. Once again, make B/A more tolerable but this time by making A smaller.
OK, Twitter I would only fight for to near-exhaustion, but you get the point.