Join 3,524 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


"If only I'd spent more time engaging with brands."
July 30, 2013 5:50 AM   Subscribe

After a series of death threats led her to quit blogging in 2007 (previously), the brilliant writer/UX designer Kathy Sierra is back with a new blog, and an excellent new post: "Your app makes me fat." In typical Sierra fashion, it's personal, entertaining, research-derived, and provocative. (An archive of old Sierra posts can be found either on her old blog, Creating Passionate Users, or in this 400-page-long fan-made PDF.)
posted by Rory Marinich (44 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
Sadly, and not entirely surprisingly, the comments section was closed almost immediately after the post went up, after first commenter "Mike" led with this doozy:
I have never seen anyone work so hard to both demand to be treated as stupid and blame someone else for being fat.
Sigh, Internet. Sigh.
posted by Rory Marinich at 5:50 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


"After completing the memorization task, participants were told the experiment was over, and then offered a snack choice of either chocolate cake or a fruit bowl."

Why would anyone think the experiment was over?
posted by 3FLryan at 6:03 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I imagine they didn't just place down the fruit and cake and say "YOU MUST CHOOSE ONE." A casual, "Can I get you anything? Fruit? Cake?" might have sufficed. Those dastardly psychologists and their mastery of casual tones.
posted by Rory Marinich at 6:05 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


The snack could easily be offered as a reward for completing the test. Thanks for participating, care for a snack on your way out?
posted by COD at 6:12 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is really interesting to read and full credit to her for returning to blogging, but in the name of all that's holy, the italics! I cannot take all the damned italics. It's this a house style I don't quite get?
posted by kalimac at 6:12 AM on July 30, 2013


It appears that this "brilliant writer/UX designer" has failed to take into account that haters/trolls/idiots/death-threat-makers are a SIGNIFICANT part of the User Base one must design the UX for, much the same mistake that Phil Fish made. These ARE the Passionate Users.

As for the "your app makes me fat", the specific experiment sounds like something out of the Journal of Irreproducible Results. I wonder what would happen if they compared the group from this experiment with one in which they did not lie about when "the experiment was over".
posted by oneswellfoop at 6:13 AM on July 30, 2013


Why would anyone think the experiment was over?

As I recall, the people were given the number in one room, then asked to walk down the hall to another and recite the number. It was while they were in the hall that someone offered them a snack to take to the other room as a thanks for participating in the "memory experiment".
posted by middleclasstool at 6:16 AM on July 30, 2013


The snack could easily be offered as a reward for completing the test. Thanks for participating, care for a snack on your way out?

Maybe it's just me, but if I'm participating in a psych test, I'm looking to deconstruct/understand/break it, so that would be a huge red flag. "Decision! Offered by the people that are administering the test! Ah!"
posted by 3FLryan at 6:16 AM on July 30, 2013


It appears that this "brilliant writer/UX designer" has failed to take into account that haters/trolls/idiots/death-threat-makers are a SIGNIFICANT part of the User Base one must design the UX for, much the same mistake that Phil Fish made. These ARE the Passionate Users.

I don't understand how this is a mistake that Sierra is making. Are you saying that The People Have Spoken and she should just shut up? Are you saying that the presence of trolls/idiots/&c in the set of people who might, directly or indirectly, benefit from what she's saying somehow makes her argument less valid? What's your point here?
posted by gauche at 6:20 AM on July 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


Yay for Kathy Sierra! I'm glad she's back to blogging.
posted by Jpfed at 6:34 AM on July 30, 2013


I thought the post was interesting. My friend works for the digital side of a media company, and the constant push to add new features, ad spots, gamification etc. on their site versus a nice user experience is a struggle. Calm websites don't make money.
posted by Malla at 6:35 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It appears that this "brilliant writer/UX designer" has failed to take into account that haters/trolls/idiots/death-threat-makers are a SIGNIFICANT part of the User Base one must design the UX for, much the same mistake that Phil Fish made. These ARE the Passionate Users.

Wait, what? Are you trying to argue that Sierra and Fish deserve the abuse, death threats, rape threats, etc.? Because they're... what, making things? Why exactly would they deserve such treatment?

There's no excuse for this type of abuse, online or off-, and I can't see how you can defend it. Seriously, we're talking about death threats in response to a blog post (or video game); how in any world is that OK?
posted by jacobian at 6:45 AM on July 30, 2013 [12 favorites]


Second that yay! I have never hated the 4chan industrial complex more than when they went after Sierra for the grave crime of being a woman on the Internet.

The post is great, BTW. Thinking through the effects of an app on users' lives is an example of how the humanities (e.g., psychology) can improve the tech experience, and I'm glad to see Sierra carrying that banner again.
posted by Cash4Lead at 6:48 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wait, what? Are you trying to argue that Sierra and Fish deserve the abuse, death threats, rape threats, etc.?

I read it as arguing "Don't bite the hand that feeds".
posted by 3FLryan at 6:48 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


Maybe it's just me, but if I'm participating in a psych test, I'm looking to deconstruct/understand/break it, so that would be a huge red flag.

As someone who has worked in two psychology labs: If this attempt to "break it" is a conscious choice, please don't. That sort of thing just contributes to noise in their data, making it more difficult to uncover true differences in their data. If you can just try to do what you're asked in good faith, your data will more accurately reflect what would be happening in the real world situations that psych experiments are trying to model aspects of.

It may turn out that you are 100% confident that you have "seen through" some aspect X of the experiment. If you have specialized knowledge that they do not anticipate their participants having, this can happen without you even trying to understand what they're doing. In that case, just tell the experimenters what you believe about X and ask to be excused.

If you're worried that you'll be deceived in some way and never find out what they were doing to you, note that the experimenters are obligated to debrief you at the end of the experiment about the aims of the experiment and any deception they used.
posted by Jpfed at 6:52 AM on July 30, 2013 [8 favorites]


Sadly, and not entirely surprisingly, the comments section was closed almost immediately after the post went up, after first commenter "Mike" led with this doozy:
I have never seen anyone work so hard to both demand to be treated as stupid and blame someone else for being fat.


That's just his non-thinking thin privilege speaking.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:24 AM on July 30, 2013


"As someone who has worked in two psychology labs: If this attempt to "break it" is a conscious choice, please don't."

Even if it's not a conscious choice to "break" it, it seems to me just picking up on the fact that the decision is part of the experiment would add to the noise in the data. That's what I was really getting at. I'm no PhD researcher, though, so I'm not sure if that's true.
posted by 3FLryan at 7:32 AM on July 30, 2013


What's your point here?

Don't shut down because your content triggers extreme/ugly/violent response. Expect it. Congratulate yourself when it happens. You poked the bear of ignorance. Expect roaring and stay a safe distance away from the flailing paws. If you don't know that, then you have a rose-colored view of "User Experience".

Them again, I have little-to-no respect for "User Experience" people. They are just in the business of converting People into Profitable Resources*, in the same way meatpackers convert Hogs into Sausages. And you know what they say about sausages being made.

*Blue_Beetle's Law: "If you are not paying for it, you're not the customer; you're the product."
posted by oneswellfoop at 7:42 AM on July 30, 2013


You clearly have little-to-no-experience with "User Experience" people, either, so it all works out.
posted by Rory Marinich at 7:53 AM on July 30, 2013 [6 favorites]



Them again, I have little-to-no respect for "User Experience" people. They are just in the business of converting People into Profitable Resources*, in the same way meatpackers convert Hogs into Sausages. And you know what they say about sausages being made.


I was just going to say, you obviously don't know anything about User Experience as a practice and don't know anyone well who works in the profession. It's not that at all.

And no one should consider "trolls" when developing any kind of user experience, except to the extent that they would shut down blog comments.
posted by sweetkid at 7:55 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I love people who work to improve User Interfaces. But "User Experience" is a buzzword that has separated itself from anything useful to the actual Users... unless you mean People Who Use People.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:00 AM on July 30, 2013


Does she really have no RSS feed on this blog or am I just not finding it?
posted by ook at 8:02 AM on July 30, 2013


Christ, never mind, I had to view source to find it but it's here.
posted by ook at 8:05 AM on July 30, 2013


User Interfaces is a subset of User Experience. The difference is that UX also asks questions like "are we accidentally making people's lives shittier with this project?" and "how much are we making people hate us/their lives?", instead of just "how do we make this one aspect of what we're doing more efficient?"

I'm working with a good college friend of mine on a project where we discuss UX daily, and I can say that it's a field full of people who worry, more than any of us do, about all the ways in which technology makes us less happy, and are trying to come up with ways of fixing that. You don't notice good UX because when it's good, it's prevented you from having a bad time.

I can talk about this for many more thousands of words (don't tempt me), but you obviously are just railing on about a phrase you barely understand. Unless you care deeply about the ways in which you are wrong, I feel that taking this derail any further would be a waste of both of our times.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:05 AM on July 30, 2013 [15 favorites]


I can talk about this for many more thousands of words (don't tempt me), but you obviously are just railing on about a phrase you barely understand. Unless you care deeply about the ways in which you are wrong, I feel that taking this derail any further would be a waste of both of our times.

Favorite so hard want to favorite more times. Designing User Interfaces is a much smaller subset of overall User Experience. It's really clear onefellswoop that you don't know what you're talking about at all. I think you're thinking about "marketing," which also isn't the airy fluff you describe, but you probably don't know much about that either.
posted by sweetkid at 8:13 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


UX also asks questions like "are we accidentally making people's lives shittier with this project?" and "how much are we making people hate us/their lives?"

That may have been where it started, but now most often it's "how can we intentionally make people's lives shittier while fooling them into not hating us/their lives?" I'd say the practitioners who did that "give UX a bad name", but they really rule the field now, enough so that lately, every time I discover someone "improving my User Experience", I immediately suspect an evil ulterior motive... and way too often find one.

And Marketing is not "airy fluff"; it's just a euphemism for Manipulation, and has been since I took a college class in it in the '70s.

After my own experience in The Media (in which self-delusion is an important survival skill) and my more recent life in the bottom demographic among MetaFilter users, of course, my POV is different and inevitably unpopular. I feel extremely lucky that I have been able to Opt Out of the Bullshit (the drop in Standard of Living was well worth it); but there were just multiple things about this particular post that rubbed me the wrong way, and I was weak in not resisting the urge to engage. I'm out now - conspire amongst yourselves.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:30 AM on July 30, 2013


That may have been where it started, but now most often it's "how can we intentionally make people's lives shittier while fooling them into not hating us/their lives?"

If you read Sierra's post, she specifically criticizes companies like Zynga who do just that.
posted by Rory Marinich at 8:33 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure I buy the premise being promoted here. And worse, because I'm now stuck debating whether or not I think the entire article is full of crap, yet struggling to write a coherent bullet point list of why I think it's pure BS, I'm now distracted and irritated. So a big FU, author, for wasting my cognitive processing. I think.

(sarcasm aside, the nanny state belief expressed is grating..)
posted by k5.user at 9:05 AM on July 30, 2013


(sarcasm aside, the nanny state belief expressed is grating..)

Right, because urging individuals working in their private jobs to consider the cognitive load their design decisions impose on their own users is an example of the "nanny state."

"Consider the needs of your customers" is basically right up there with laws about seat belts and workplace safety.
posted by gauche at 9:37 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


perhaps, but when framed in the hand-wringing "think what a person they could be/reach their full potential, if it weren't for your shitty app that they enjoy playing that is leeching away their precious brain power". Well, that is crap. Put watching TV, drinking, recreational drug use, and plenty of other things that are brain wasters in that line and it seems clear.
posted by k5.user at 9:52 AM on July 30, 2013


perhaps, but when framed in the hand-wringing "think what a person they could be/reach their full potential, if it weren't for your shitty app that they enjoy playing that is leeching away their precious brain power". Well, that is crap. Put watching TV, drinking, recreational drug use, and plenty of other things that are brain wasters in that line and it seems clear.

What is clear? I get that you don't agree with the sentiment, but I don't see what your argument is here. Is it that nobody should criticize anything that anybody else enjoys? Is it that this particular criticism is invalid for some reason? Is it that this criticism, notionally applied (by you) to other things, somehow indicates that we are on a slippery slope towards this horrible dystopia in which app designers are asked by other private individuals to use some sort of cognitive minimalism or ready-to-handedness in their design aesthetic? What's the problem here, as you see it?
posted by gauche at 10:17 AM on July 30, 2013


k5.user, you seem to have a lot of baggage about political talking points that aren't really applicable here. Perhaps a private actor writing about how to create commercial products that provide long-term value to their customers and are easy to use isn't the best platform for you to use to criticize the nanny state. Just maybe.
posted by jsturgill at 10:20 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'd say the practitioners who did that "give UX a bad name", but they really rule the field now

You're really entirely wrong about this. Understandably so, unfortunately.

The thing is, the UX you notice is the dark pattern stuff you describe, because it stands out because it's in your way and actually degrades your experience. Good UX, which is the vast majority of it, you don't notice because it's good (or at least not actively bad) and therefore isn't in your way, so it doesn't grab your attention.

It's a little as though every time you heard the term "website developer" you responded as though you'd heard "Spammy SEO specialist". Yeah, those guys are out there, but they don't in any way define the field; they're just more visible because they actively cause problems for everyone else.

Nobody would dispute that what you describe exists, but you're really barking up the wrong tree as far as the terminology goes. And you've chosen a very strange target for your barking given that she explicitly argues against exactly the stuff you're complaining about. You're not even in the right forest. Hell, I'm pretty sure you're not even a dog.
posted by ook at 10:23 AM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


every time I discover someone "improving my User Experience", I immediately suspect an evil ulterior motive... and way too often find one.

Confirmation bias is a hell of a drug.
posted by asterix at 10:28 AM on July 30, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm so glad to see Kathy Sierra back. The timing's interesting too, given all the stuff about twitter and the attacks on the woman who led the campaign to get women on UK banknotes that's just going on. (And I wish I were surprised that she had to close comments on her posts but of course I'm not.)
posted by immlass at 10:37 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It appears that this "brilliant writer/UX designer" has failed to take into account that haters/trolls/idiots/death-threat-makers are a SIGNIFICANT part of the User Base one must design the UX for, much the same mistake that Phil Fish made. These ARE the Passionate Users.

Capitalising 'significant' doesn't make it any more true. You can troll without even having used the output of the people you're trolling. Fez certainly did very well despite internet drama.
posted by ersatz at 10:39 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


It appears that this "brilliant writer/UX designer" has failed to take into account that haters/trolls/idiots/death-threat-makers are a SIGNIFICANT part of the User Base one must design the UX for, much the same mistake that Phil Fish made. These ARE the Passionate Users.

Imagine a filmmaker who, while screening a controversial documentary at a university, gets death threats from the audience. Those are not "passionate" film students.

Imagine a writer who, every time she does a public reading at a bookstore, hears death threats from the audience. Those are not "passionate" readers.

Imagine a woman who receives a death threat from her boyfriend. That is not a "passionate" man.

None of this behavior is passionate. It is abusive, online or off.
posted by compartment at 11:04 AM on July 30, 2013 [10 favorites]


Maybe it's just me, but if I'm participating in a psych test, I'm looking to deconstruct/understand/break it, so that would be a huge red flag. "Decision! Offered by the people that are administering the test! Ah!"

It's sobering to consider how much psychology research is based on experiments run on university undergrads.
posted by straight at 11:20 AM on July 30, 2013


None of this behavior is passionate. It is abusive, online or off.

To add onto this: slinging about foul invective requires very little passion. I don't need to be particularly enraged to tell somebody to go kill themselves; I need to feel like their response is going to satisfy me. (And a lack of empathy.) If I mildly dislike somebody, getting them all worked up because I say something wretched towards them might be a thing that I do, but there's no passion involved.

I have been passionately angry with people online before, and I have had people be passionately angry with me. Let me tell you, passionate rage manifests itself in a much different way than this trollish bullshit. It tends to be very long and wound-up and convoluted and the fact that somebody's on the other end getting very frustrated as they write comes across loud and clear. I don't know if I've ever received such a response along with a "go kill yourself"; generally the threats I've received have been sent by people who didn't care enough to fire off more than a line or two. They're not really trying to express anything to me; they just want to feel like they have a power over something they're annoyed by.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:30 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


I liked this comment (I can't find a permalink to it, but it's from "Mike Healey") addressing the "choices are cognitive drain" discussion:
I find this worst when "Never Ask Me Again" is one of the possible responses. It leaves me wondering how what settings I have to dig through if I ever need to change my answer, and it's worse when the implications aren't clear. There's more pressure to get it right immediately.
YES YES YES. Those "remember my answer" checkboxes have good intentions, but I often don't use them because what if I got my answer wrong? What if next time I want the opposite choice? It's asking me if I want to permanently change the behavior of the application; but usually I don't have good enough knowledge to make that decision.

(And then there's no good UI answer for undoing it: either there's a huge "advanced settings" dialog with options for individually setting each option, or there's an all-or-nothing "revert to default settings" button.)
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:33 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


As someone working on a team where the project is to help people do a really cognitively challenging thing (write/share Narrative Evaluations and Academic Statements) this came at just the right time. It was a good reminder that our work should get out of the damn way so that students and faculty can do theirs.

(We have a lot of passion in our arguments about how the interface should actually work. But there's no violence in it. Just an intense desire to do things well, and differences of opinion about what that means exactly.)
posted by epersonae at 11:35 AM on July 30, 2013 [2 favorites]


The whole "cognitive load" thing reminded me of this 13-year-old Joel Spolsky post:
Every time you provide an option, you're asking the user to make a decision. That means they will have to think about something and decide about it. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but, in general, you should always try to minimize the number of decisions that people have to make.
posted by We had a deal, Kyle at 11:40 AM on July 30, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is actually a really good article about how the choices we make drain our brains, and that we should be aware and respectful of other people's resources. I'm disappointed that so few people seem to be engaging with what's a thoughtful article. I'm much more interested in a discussion about the take away and larger picture than nitpicking details or word choice. None of the things being nitpicked impact the larger takeaway in the slightest except to tear down something that's thoughtful and interesting.
posted by stoneweaver at 11:43 AM on July 30, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was just at a UX discussion last night at digital agency Huge that referenced this article. It's an important article.
posted by sweetkid at 6:18 PM on August 14, 2013


« Older Cat tries to eat octopus; octopus has other ideas....  |  There have been days,... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments