Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Book review: Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

Badass Cover
Sadly, Kathy Sierra doesn’t blog any longer for reasons that I’m not going to get into here. But the good news is that she has a new book out, Badass: Making Users Awesome . It’s a book about making products successful but doing so through the lens of the user. She writes that an “awesome product” is a side-effect of products that help users to be successful at whatever they want to do do. And that’s what leads to success.
Where you find sustained success driven by recommendations, you find badass users. Smarter, more skillful, more powerful users. Users who know more and can do more in a way that’s personally meaningful.
It’s Kathy’s contention that a lot of the time companies don’t put enough focus on helping users advance the skills in the “compelling context” around their tool rather than just the tool itself. For example, a camera is a tool. Photography is the context. And, by helping users advance their photography skills and engaging with them around that context, companies can be more successful.

There’s science and examples to buttress Kathy’s points. Research on motivation from Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck. Ski instruction techniques from Lito Tejeda-Flores. “Deliberate practice” to move skills to the Mastered (i.e. reliable/automatic) category. The acquisition of perceptual knowledge. The book is far from a textbook though. It has simple exercises, lots of graphics, and highly readable prose. (If you’re familiar with the O’Reilly Head First series of programming books, the style of this O’Reilly-published work is somewhat similar.)

The bottom line is that Badass is highly engaging and biased toward the practical. You can read the whole thing in a flight across about half the US. To the degree that I have a criticism, it’s the flip side of my praise. It’s perhaps a bit too breezy a read. Some more examples using a wider variety of products might have better grounded the book in concrete specifics.

Overall grade: 4/5

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