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Userless Experiences

We spend a lot of time designing, testing and implementing user experiences. But what happens when users aren't using our applications and are not even near the pathways we have carefully crafted for them?

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Application developers all spend a lot of time designing, testing and implementing user experiences. We ensure that every button has the right colour, is in the right place and optimised for converting those precious clicks. We make sure that users are fully engaged in our applications. We attempt to lead them down pathways we have carefully crafted.

What happens when users aren't using our applications though? How do we lead them down our carefully crafted pathways if they aren't anywhere near our paths?

A Different Path

The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow—Bill Gates

In a fully connected world, it's hard to get away from all the applications that run our lives. Users can be away from your application though.

Endless notifications, electronic direct mailing and pop-ups are an annoyance and not an engaging experience for many. We all know that. So how can we ensure that people are using our applications when they aren't?

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I— I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference—Robert Frost

Users can be engaged in a vision without using an application.

As developers, we have to strive to create things which engage people, regardless of where they are, what they are doing or why they are doing it. We need to empower users to use our tools when they aren't near them. They need to want to use our applications.

To create an experience you need to encompass all facets of that experience. Design and engineering should take into account how users think about your experience when they aren't in physical connection with your application.

Another Place

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I’ll meet you there—Rumi

Think about what. Think about how. Think about when. Think about where. Think about why.

What are they going to do next time they are using your application? How do they mentally map out tasks which they are yet to perform? When do they intend to complete a task they haven't done before? Where are they going to be using your application next? Why would they ever use it again?

Most importantly, think about who. Empathy is the key.

Who is this user in your statistics? Who are they really? Why are they using your service? What can we do to make their lives better? Who are we to tell them that we can make their lives better? The stats are inhuman—humans crave human experiences. We have thoughts, feelings and emotions. How are you catering to them?

A Case Study

Last year SilverStripe Professional Partner, Little Giant, helped to launch Junk Free June, a charitable organisation to help raise money to support the Cancer Society of New Zealand.

We didn't want to just have people using the website and donating their money. We wanted to help them bring about a positive change in their lives. We wanted to deliver a platform, which allowed people to make the most of their commitment to create positive change for themselves, not for us.

Okay, I'll level with you, we did want them to donate their money as well.

We're building an enabler, not a charity. We're building a motivator, not a public health forum. Living Junk Free is about making changes in your life that you know will help you live better—Matt Clayton, Creative Director of Little Giant

Our Driving Motivation

So what drove us? What were our questions? Who was "our who"?

What: An annual fundraising campaign inspiring people to live a 'Junk Free' lifestyle
How: Delivering a platform to enable a community to grow and encourage people to participate, raise money and live Junk Free.
When: June. And beyond.
Where: Everywhere. Predominantly New Zealand based.
Why: To promote healthier living and fundraise for the Cancer Society of New Zealand.
Who: Everyone who wants to make a positive change in their lives or help an organisation who is dedicated to positive change.

Every single person.

Being Junk Free

Living Junk Free isn't about defining what Junk is. It's about personal choice, personal thinking and personal preference. We chose to allow people to define it for themselves. We didn't tell them what their 'Junk' is because they already know (most, anyway).

This means that participants had to immediately make a decision that was outside of our control. Losing control right at the start allowed us to enable participants to make their own choices. This engaged people at their own level of commitment that they're comfortable with. We didn't want to force anyone to do anything but what they believe is best for them. People often know what they want and we shouldn't assume they don't.

Simple Choices

By letting users define their own level of engagement with the application, we allowed ourselves something special: we allowed ourselves to empower them to make their own choices.

By delivering recipes, health and wellbeing advice, plus and simple tips and tricks through a blogging platform, we allowed people to choose what they needed to make change in their lives.

By engaging with users through social media, we made sure to encourage and back the choices they made and enabled conversation to happen organically and naturally without controlling the narrative for our own ends.

Userless Engagement

Allowing people to choose their own engagement allowed them to think about it outside of our application. A lot of discussions we heard the most about took place in workplaces, homes and social gatherings. Many people didn’t even use the application at all. They simply heard about Junk Free June and instantly understood what it was and how they wanted to engage. To us, that was a big win.

By pushing the idea, not the application, we succeed far beyond what we think is imaginable.

Many participants have continued to be Junk Free long after June past. This is not something that we expected, or tried to drive. It’s a choice participants have made to make their lives better and we're proud that we were part of that decision. But it was their decision, not ours.

Long term, the vision is change. It isn't an application, it isn't fundraising—it's enabling, allowing and motivating people living healthier lifestyles. At the end of the day, it’s their choice how they live. We’re just an enabler for them when they need it.

It's all about ideas

People decide to share their engagement with, or experience of, an application outside its bounds because they are in control of how that application works for them. They have their own ideas of what they can get out of it. They have their own dreams.

Allow yourself to let people dream. Allow yourself to let them choose. Allow yourself to let them live as they want to live.

Want to create an awesome userless experience? Contact Little Giant through SilverStripe Professional Partner listing or check out Little Giant's website.

Header image by Ilya.

About the author
Stevie Mayhew

Stevie is Chief Technology Officer at Little Giant. He is a long time user of, and contributor to, the SilverStripe Open Source offerings.

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