My Notre Dame Story

Preface - Millions of people have a story about the Cathedral of Notre Dame. Today as we watched it burn I’m sure we all re-lived those moments and remembered what they meant to us then and what they mean to us now. My story isn’t big or sweeping, I only set foot inside one time, but that memory is set in stone. My heart is with all those who loved this symbol of the connection between humanity and the divine. 

My Story - The Cathedral of Notre Dame

I was 22 and alone in Paris. It was Sunday morning early March of 2000. My boyfriend had broken my heart three weeks earlier, so I was standing there by myself on my first trip abroad, in front of the Cathedral of Notre Dame. The two massive towers with the delicate spire piercing the sky in between them. It was cold that day. I was shivering in my leather jacket, buttoned all the way up. That was before I started wearing knitted hats to keep me warm. Right now time is compressed as if the moment from 20 years ago and the moment today are back to back, instead of bookends to two decades of life. 

I’ve looked at 4 different news sites now. The headlines are all the same, “Notre Dame is Burning.” I see the fire burning so hot and bright on the screen, yet I still shiver from the cold of that spring day. I remember going inside and walking softly around the vast space. People were gathering for Mass, so I sat down at the back and listened. The priests spoke in Latin. I caught a few words that I understood. “Deus” was the one that stood out most. God. 

The air was still in a way I’d never experienced before. As if the sanctuary was holding the life and breath of everyone who had come to worship for the last 800 years. It was dark, especially around the edges where the light from the windows didn’t reach. There were stands filled with small flickering candles along the walls, but the light was swallowed up by the enormous spaces that soared overhead. 

The woodwork was intricate, detailed and smoothed from countless fingertips running along the curves seeking to find a connection to the divine by touching the railings.  I remember the smell most. The amplified fragrance of time, layered on and wiped clean every day for centuries. 

We stood up and sat down. I followed the rhythm a half beat behind those who knew the service by heart. The echos of the unintelligible word of God floating over our heads along with the wisps of smoke from the incense burners. 

I spent 10 days in Paris on that trip. Notre Dame was always there at the heart of Paris.  From almost every high place in the city I found myself looking for the towers, the spire, and the famous flying buttresses. I walked by it several times more, but never went inside again. 

I bought a book on architecture when I was there, written in French, vowing to learn the language well enough to read it. I never did get enough french to do more than read a menu. Someday I tell myself. I always intended to return to Notre Dame, to feel it again. Someday. I never did. Even though the years have brought me back to France and Paris several times. You always think there will be another day. 

Today is one of those days that no one ever imagined. This man-made edifice that embodied something intangible for millions of people over hundreds of years, changed in an instant, forever. I didn’t realized how much  my moment within those stone walls meant to me, until it went up in flames. My eyes brimmed with tears as I time traveled back to the year 2000 and remembered as I sat at my desk in my office and watched Notre Dame burn. 

The Experience Era

“Half a century ago, the life expectancy of a Fortune 500 firm was 75 years. Now it’s less than 15 years. The external environment is changing faster every day, and even our best organizations are failing to learn and adapt.” – Intertwingled, Peter Morville

It’s here and it’s here to stay. Gone are the days of brand-deities, worshipped for their mystique and perceived magical powers of persuasion. The age of corporate dinosaurs who rule the land is over. We have entered the Experience Era.

Today’s user is evolved. They are savvy, smart, and they don’t trust advertising. They’ve realized that what they want is more important than what companies want to give them. They look for reviews and relatable experiences rather than fixating on industry awards. They know they have options. Loyalty only lasts about as long as a cell-phone battery.

This is a new era, where customers and users rule and bottom-lines are drawn and quartered when the experience is not up to their expectations.

Your experience is your brand.

If your customers can’t get to the information they need when they need it, their next stop is only a Google search away. And once your blue Google link turns purple… there’s no going back.

Now, I could walk you through the A to Z path of best practices and planning on how to transition from a brand-centric to a user-centric business model. But that would be fairly useless: unless you live in some sort of bubble from the 1990s you are already transitioning. You are desperately trying to evolve so that you can survive the Experience Era rather than getting fossilized in the tar pit of corporate stagnation.

How’s it going? I get it. You have an incredibly complex structure in place, and you need to figure out how to adapt that structure without missing a beat or a quarterly earnings target. It’s like trying to remodel a house while still living in it. Not only have I been working in this industry for over 15 years, I’ve also experienced the discomfort living hell of about dozen home remodeling projects. The key to survival is simple. It is agile. You need to adapt to survive. You need to re-program the DNA of your organization so that you don’t become a corporate dinosaur. Rather you must be a color-changing, adaptable, intelligent eight-legged octopus, who's DNA can shift on the fly rather than waiting for natural selection. So, how can you change your organizational DNA?

The three most important letters in corporate DNA are M. V. P. 

Minimum Viable Product – By definition a product with just enough features to gather validated learning about the product and continue its development.  

We bought our house 3 years ago. My husband and I put 10 cities on a spreadsheet, compared each of the cities on 7 or 8 different weighted factors, we rated each of the cities in each of the categories and Seattle came out on top by a wide margin. So we flew out to Seattle and looked at 20+ houses in one weekend and bought one.

Before we moved, we showed photos to the kids. They weren’t terribly interested or impressed with the house. Then they saw the pictures of the tree house in the back yard. Whatever reservations they had before were wiped away when they saw the big beautiful tree house suspended far above the forest floor, nestled among 150-foot-tall cedar trees with primordial ferns scattered below.

My husband and I arrived 3 weeks before the kids. The day after we closed on our house I climbed up to the tree house. I had visions of pirates, jungle animals, and more. As I climbed the ladder I could feel the structure sway. When I reached the top, I looked out across the acres of forest next to our house and then looked up at a roof barely tacked together by 1 x 2 inch boards.

The beautiful tree house was a disaster. It had been built by a guy who had a vision of what a tree house should look like, but he’d skipped over a few important things. Like a solid foundation, or correctly pitched roof that drained the Seattle rain, or side rails that would actually keep human children from falling out of the tree house. The swaying I felt was due to the fact that one of the 3 bolts holding the entire structure to the trees had sheered off due to the force of one moving tree being bolted to two other trees, which were moving in different directions.

So like a CEO who has just seen the writing on the wall, I panicked. I called a contractor and got a bid to rebuild the tree house so my children had an epic structure, fit for safe adventures of all kinds. When I receive the bid, I made that sound you make when the wind’s been knocked out of you by some invisible financial force: it’s a cross between a gasp and a cough and a sigh. The number at the bottom of the page was so far out of budget it was in another solar system. I quickly assessed the situation and asked myself. What is the minimum I need to do so that my children can feasibly play on this tree house without risk of bodily harm?

After much discussion and even more planning, we found the intersection between what we could afford and what we needed to do to make the structure safe. Two days before the kids arrived the treehouse was deemed ‘safe’ for pirates, monkeys, and other creatures.  

Here lies not the first step, because unless you’ve been living under a rock you are already on the path, but the next step on your journey to becoming a user-centered organization.

At a minimum my tree house needed to be safe. So we put most of our budget into building a solid foundation. We sunk four large posts into the ground and tied the tree house to a single tree. And unless you were really looking you probably wouldn’t have noticed the change. But it was the key to holding up the entire structure. It made the entire experience possible. Now the tree could sway and the tree house would sway with it but it would stay solid because it was anchored by the 4 posts below.

For many companies the MVP should be identified with the user’s needs in mind. What do the users need most right now to accomplish their goals and how can we give them that without tearing down the entire tree house and spending 6 months to rebuild it? Not what do our neighbors think is best. Not what does my sister-in-law think the tree house should look like. 

The problem is this: most of the time the MVP isn’t sexy. It’s 4-by-12-inch posts sunk into concrete. It’s not some super slick social media chrome add-on. It’s not a wearable widget beacon that reads customer’s body temp and automatically sends signals to the nearest customer service rep about their feelings about the shirt they are considering buying. (Although, that’s not a bad idea.) It’s most often something simple like quality content, improved search, or a streamlined checkout experience. It’s a solid post in the ground that can be tied to the sway of user’s needs, wants, and desires.

Once we’d done what we needed so the treehouse wouldn’t fall down, we slowed down a bit. We had blown the treehouse budget on the foundation. We added a rug, a make-shift table, and some thrift store chairs. It looked good. But most importantly, the kids loved it. We started planning for the next phase. We had all sorts of input and a backlog of improvements that we wanted to do next.

 Then, a year after we moved in, we decided we were ready to add goats to the insanity of our lives. We needed a goat shed. Like many CEO’s I was impatient. I wanted the goats yesterday. So we put up an ugly but very serviceable electric wire fence to keep the coyotes out. Then I looked at the still-not-ideal but functional treehouse and decided to give my kids the experience of milking goats and making cheese. The ground floor of their now-stabilized treehouse would serve nicely as the foundation for a goat shed.

So I went to the store, bought a bunch of rough-hewn cedar boards, and fancy screws that took less strength to screw in (hello! talk about user-centered design…women in their 30’s and 40’s are now among the fastest-growing demographic of DIY’ers and now they have screws that are easier to screw in…and guess what? the big burly contractor dudes love them too!!!) 

In about 2-days we had a goat shed. The still-wonky tree house was now giving us 100% more value with an investment that was about 2% of what we invested originally. The goat shed idea had jumped ahead of many other treehouse improvements, but the users and stakeholders alike agreed on the decision. The users (aka kids) helped modify the tree house and continued to give us creative suggestions on how the goat shed could also provide structure for a hidden loft (in case robbers ever came and we needed to hide from them, of course).

But focusing on the user doesn’t mean you don’t get to be creative. It doesn’t mean your next project is going to cost you major moola. When you combine good business sense with solid user research and user-centered strategy, everyone wins. The CEO, the stakeholders, and the users: in this case, the goats and the kids both.

The difficulty in making the shift from brand centric to user centric business is directly tied to your business’s ability to affect change.

Is your organization’s approach to change glacial or meteoric?  These are the key questions you need to ask:

  • Culture – Is your culture one of invention and change or is it one of ‘this is how we’ve always done it’ or follow-the-leader? Is your culture diverse, inclusive, and flexible? Do you look for new hires that ‘fit in’ or do you look for people that break the mold?


  • Risk tolerance – Is your company willing to entertain new ideas? Are they willing to not only talk to users but to listen to them? Are you willing to invest in critical infrastructure needed to create an experience that delights customers while allowing them to accomplish their goals?


  • Leadership - Are they interested in knowing more about your customers/users? Does your leadership understand and advocate for a customer/user centered experience strategy? Do they want to cultivate a culture of innovation and change?


The answers to these questions are rarely a solid yes or no. “Kind of.” “So-and-so is an advocate for user experience, but that other guy he’s all about cost-cutting.”

Where your company lands on the spectrum is measured by the positive answers to these questions.

I hate to break it to you, but most organizations are glaciers. Even if every answer was a resounding yes, the policies, procedures, and ‘best-practices’ that are documented on that 800-page share-point site mean that you an iceberg stuck in a glacier. If you are at a fast-moving start-up or start-up like groups within a large organization, you may be a little more meteor. But most start-ups are not reading blogs like this one. They are too busy hurtling ahead toward an impact that may create a new lake, transform a planet, expire millions of enormous creatures… or just burnout and die before they even break through the atmosphere.

Being a glacier is not so bad. You have a history; you have stability; you have the power to change things. Have you ever seen the fjords of Norway? You can’t see a glacier moving, but it in perpetual motion, always changing the landscape underneath it.

Glaciers can still make an impact, and if that impact is in the right place at the right time, it can change the landscape. The movement on our treehouse over the past 3 years has felt slow to me and I know it’s felt glacial to my then 9 and now 12-year-old-son. This summer we are finally enclosing the treehouse. The kids are on their annual trip to New Mexico and when they get home, there will be windows, a new door, and a roof that’s pitched correctly so that they and the goats below them all stay dryer this winter. Next summer we may even add the zip-line that’s on their nice-to-have list… But believe me I’m going to try and engineer that zip line so I can somehow move hay to the goats more easily! The glacial speed of our improvements was bemoaned by users and stakeholders alike, but despite the pace, the treehouse experience has been a solid success. Captain Pinker-Pants has ruled the woods and Jasmine gave birth to triplets this spring in the goat shed.

We knew the tree house needed to be safe. So we started there. We invested the critical time and money to make it so. When a glacier finally makes a move a big chunk of ice falls off into the ocean, it makes a spectacular creak and grown and then you see the huge splash. That part of the glacier may not shift again for years. But a few minutes or days later another chunks of ice will fall.  

As long as you keep moving, you can continue to have impact. You can make big splashes, while moving a large organization forward. Take small steps quickly. Identify the MVP, scope it to fit time and budget, then finish it, watch the splash, and plan your next move. Before you know it you will be adapting and changing and experiencing real success.

If you incorporate the MVP into your corporate DNA, you will not only survive The Experience Era, you will adapt and thrive in our new user-centered world.

Rhythm & Flow

Transcript of 'Rhythm & Flow' given at WUD November 2015 and in Deloitte Digital COP April 2016

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Rhythm & Flow

I remember being in middle school, dreading Wednesdays. That was the day our gym teacher forced us to run around the football field. I was this height went I was only 13. I was all knees and elbows, and truly awful permed flaming hair. I would stumble along at the back of the pack, red-faced and stumbling and out of breath, coming in almost last, every single week.

This morning I ran the Tan Track before dawn, jogging from my hotel along the dark river bank. By the time I hit the gravel my muscles were warm, my joints had loosened and I started to relax as I listened to the crunch beneath my feet and the pulse of music in my ears. 

Right around the time I saw the gothic garden gate ahead, it started. 

Chemicals flooded my brain. Every though, feeling, and emotion was swept away in the torrent of joy rushing though my body. I was grinning like a cheshire cat. I couldn’t help myself, I started laughing. 

Sometimes, when it’s really strong. I’ll tilt my head back and howl like a coyote. 

Every time I run I get high. 

Without smoking, shooting, or snorting anything. 

I can get high whenever I want to. I’m going to tell you how you can do it, for yourself, for your clients, and for your users without breaking a sweat.

(My husband for one thinks running is a form of medieval torture invented by thin insane sadists.)

But first you need to understand Flow.

Let's start with what Flow isn't. 

Flow is not not checking Facebook for the 17th time in an hour, Flow is not thinking about what you want for lunch. Flow is not stressing about the deadline that you might miss.

Flow is the optimal state of engagement. Do you remember the last time you lost track of time? You were reading or dancing or playing a video game.

You were so engaged in what you were doing that you were not thinking of anything else. Time had ceased to exist and you didn’t feel anything but happy.

Flow is that sweet spot where your brain and your body come together when challenge and ability are balanced and you can see your way forward to achievement.

Flow was first defined by this guy. Me-High Chick-Sent-Me-High-Ee

He wrote several books about creativity and Flow.

Last year we talked about how Flow is addicting, but it’s a high that’s good for you. How it can relieve stress, support learning, improve performance, and even help you heal.  We talked about creating experiences that balanced challenge and ability to and how to engage users with play. We talked about how the goal of UX should be more than making an experience simple. The goal of UX should be to create experiences that ‘Flow’.

That’s all still true. But there was something I was missing. I figured out since then is that achieving Flow is about more than balancing challenge and ability and achievement.

Today I’m going to tell you how I unlocked a new level in the game of  flow, and how I see the future of UX. This talk started with an a-ha moment. I literally had one of those lightning-bolt sort of experiences.  

I have been a runner for about 15 years. The first time I experienced a runner’s high I knew I’d be a runner for the rest of my life. I was addicted.

(In reality I look like a knock-kneed giraffe ambling across an asphalt savannah, but I digress)

Since that first high, like a junkie, I’ve been obsessively trying to figure out how to predictably create that experience. When I learned about Flow, everything I’d been seeking suddenly had a framwork, a vocabulary, and a direction.

Like any good junkie/researcher I started experimenting, researching, and gathering data. When I was focused on Flow, I was able to see how everything in my work and my life fit into the context of challenge and ability.

How my addiction to learning and achievement gave meaning to every task and even the arc of my career. Still, I was stumped by one thing. I wanted a recipe for predictably achieving Flow. I did more research. I went back to game design, and looked at the ways that game designers engage players. With stimulus, color, sound...

Then one day I was out running. I knew I’d get a high that day, because I have figured out how to manufacture a runner’s high, and conditions were perfect.

My ‘Flow’ playlist was on, songs with soaring vocals, about 165 bpm

My favorite running shoes, about 150 miles of use on them.

It was 52 degrees and lightly misting.

(Subconsciously this is maybe why I moved to Seattle. Rain has always been my muse.)

A 5.5 mile route that winds along the waterfront and past soaring trees that have lived a hundred years. I was running, the music was playing, and when I hit my stride my body was flooded with feel-good chemicals. I was in mid-coyote howl when it hit me.  The key to achieving predictable engagement, predictable Rhythm.


If you remember one word from my talk today, I want it to be Rhythm.

As organic beings, we are hard-wired for rhythm. Our hearts, our minds, and our mouths gravitate towards rhythm. 

Every truly significant human achievement can be attributed to rhythm. Science, systems, buildings.

The pace of our existence is determined by rhythm. 

I’ve been studying flow for three years. I think about it, talk about it (sometimes ad nauseum as my friends and colleagues will attest), and look for ways to see the world around me through the lense of Flow and engagement.

Everything about Flow screams Rhythm...and it took me 3 years to realize that it was the key to unlocking Flow. Sometimes I’m a little slow.

The missing ingredient to the Flow recipe is rhythm.

Simply put. Rhythm combined with challenge and ability, will result in engagement.  

You might be asking yourself at this point, “Um, what does this have to do with Usability?

Um, everything.

Usability is engagement. Yes you want to make sure the experience is simple, natural, and goal oriented.

But when you are so focused on counting trees and branches, marking off success and failure, you’ll miss the engaging beauty of the forest and the sky above. The more usable your design or product is the more engaging it is.

Nature, Art, science, and technology all rely on rhythm to create the fundamental structure for achievement. When those rhythms and patterns are disrupted, the building falls, the system gives you a 404, the ‘Flow’ breaks, and the user disengages.

So how do we use rhythm to innovate to engage our users, our team, and even our stakeholders?

It’s just like achieving a runner’s high. You create a proven structure with a predictable rhythm.

But how?!?!?!

Well, it’s not the same for everyone, Flow is individual. My formula may be saucony shoes, trees, rain, and a 8.75 min pace and 164 beats per min.

You may get high on a bike in the city with nirvana and clip in pedals (ok so also one of my recipes for Flow)

So how do you use rhythm to engage users? We create a structure where we deliver challenge in sync with user’s abilities with a predictable rhythm of achievement.

What does this look like?

How many of you have worked on a retail experience? Banking account opening?Educational system? A lot of bad experiences out there, but I’ve noticed something. They are getting better.I mean I’m not achieving any sort of coyote-howling rush when checking my bank account balance or paying my credit card bill.But I do feel kinda tingly when I remember at the last minute that my bill is due, and I can whip out my phone,log in with my thumb-print, and within 30 seconds view my balance,choose a payment amount, and source, and hit make payment.

These experiences are engaging us. We are up for the challenge of spending 30 seconds paying our credit card bill while standing in line at the movie theater. <Image>We have the ability to click through less than 5 screens, without having to zoom in or type in numbers.  We are rewarded by an ever cheerful ‘Thank you for your payment’ screen and the knowledge we will still have a good credit score next month. Achievement Without the pain and frustration of trying to type in lots of numbers on your phone, or zoom in to see a desktop site, it’s easy to fall into the simple rhythm of paying your credit card balance.

It’s not full-blown Flow. But it’s not torture either. We are engaged in the experience of managing your finances, and it feels good. <Image-happy person>

These experiences are a result of a combination of User Research, User Centered Design, and  Usability Testing. Basically, good UX.

We know how to do that right? Even if you didn’t know you were targeting Flow, you’ve been using patterns, rhythm, and best practices that lead to engaging experiences.

Some of my favorite are:

Predictable IA - If you understand your users, I mean really understand them

Request and Reward

Design Patterns


Now, why is it that we all know at least a little bit about how to engage our users, but from my experience many of us spend a lot of time either bored or stressed at work. It’s like Goldilocks and the three bears. Too hot, too cold, and all the just-right projects were snapped up by someone else.

What if we were able to balance challenge, ability, and achievement at work with a predictable rhythm that resulted in Flow? Actually, it already exists. <Image>The agile process is the equivalent of using rhythm to create project Flow. Not everyone uses it correctly, but in theory it’s designed to help projects ‘Flow’.

In the spring of 2015 I started a new job. My first day on the job I discovered that the project I was working on had been sold with a stipulation that there would be usability testing. Awesome I thought!

Then the other shoe dropped. As part of our agile transformation we want said usability testing to be done every two weeks, while simultaneously producing new designs, and receiving feedback on those designs.

They’d sold Agile UX, and I had to walk in on my first day, with my first-day high heels on and  run 6 back-to-back hour long user sessions, with a script I saw for the first time that morning.

It was awesome. Hello Flow.

I’m going to pause and go on a tangent here, Do you know why I was able to engage in this challenge instead of stopping, shutting down, and crying in the bathroom? Because it had all the right ingredients. #1...there was a challenge.

I’m kind of awesome at user interviews (ability).

I knew that I had six interviews to do with the same script for each (that's the rhythm.)  

And I knew what I wanted to get out of them and from experience knew how valuable that information would be for informing later designs (you guessed it...achievement.)

A few weeks later I cobbled together a few proven methodologies with past experience and dash of client knowledge to create a Franken-UX process/method. It had all the ingredients needed to engage the team, and the client with the goal of producing a truly user centered design.

Pulse was born.


Amazingly enough it worked. The client loved it. Pulse is a format now being piloted on a number of projects across our organization.

Pulse creates a predictable 2 or 3 week rhythm for UX that dovetails with the Agile methodology, a pattern that’s been proven to engage developers, and produce quality systems in less time that traditional waterfall methods.

It’s built on the foundations of User Centered Design and Agile Methodology. With a focus on engaging users, teams, and clients (Hello ROI…)

There are three things that need to happen with a predictable rhythm in order to produce engagement and ultimately flow. I have already mentioned them all, twice.

In case you forgot.



Whatever it is we are building, designing, or even fixing. There is a challenge involved. Pulse, works with agile, so the challenges are broken down into user stories. Small bite-sized chunks that can be eaten up by UX practitioners excited about flexing their mental muscles.


This leads to ability. We are all problem solvers. At Deloitte we have this amazing flat organization that creates an environment where people can not only use their abilities to solve problems, but they are given opportunities to learn and grow as they meet the challenges of the project. With Pulse those challenges are sized to the individual. Team members take on the bite-sized problems and have everything they need to solve them in a supportive and inspiring environment.


Most of the projects we do last about 3-6 months. It’s a predictable cadence that allows individuals to engage with projects at intervals that keep people engaged. The payoff of completing a project and achieving results has a rhythm, this is a pretty common model. The one thing is that before Agile and before Pulse. Projects had distinctive highs and lows. Months of planning, a few furious weeks of design, then months and months of feedback and refinement. At the end of the project, designers hate the stakeholders, stakeholders think the designers are hacks and start doing design themselves in PowerPoint, project managers start drinking more, and everyone is counting down the days until the whole thing is over. Tends to burn people out.

Usually we start things off with a sprint or two of discovery. To establish baseline knowledge of the problem and of the user. But we don’t need to know everything, because the research doesn’t stop. While doing discovery we create a rhythm for the projects alongside the sprint plan that shows day-by-day what the team will be focusing on and when the touch points will be. These plans allow for UX research design and testing one sprint

We use the RITE method on testing day. Showing one design to users in morning sessions then integrating over lunch and showing users a second design in afternoon sessions. We follow up 15 min usability sessions with 15 min interview and 15 min of user reactions to visual designs to maximize the time and to gain insights for next week’s design problems.

Assets are templated, simple to produce, and easy to understand and allow for communication across disciplines and up to the highest administrative levels. There are no 60 page reports or 100 slide powerpoints with 8 point font. No jargon. One-page reports are distributed the day after testing. Simple 5-6 slide decks highlight the work in the sprint at the end of each 2 weeks.


Every sprint, every team member achieves something. The entire process is design to engage the people building the system.

And guess what? It will deliver an experience that has integrated user feedback at every stage of the design cycle.

By combining Pulse with agile methodologies, within the first few weeks of starting a project, researchers and designers who in traditional projects may not see results for months or years can see in-production screens that were directly informed by their research.

It seems simple. It is simple.

And with all things simple, it can be very hard to convince people who are used to doing things the hard way, to change to something simpler.

But it’s so worth it.

I want you to think about the last time you were so engaged in what you were doing that you lost track of time and felt like you could ride, run, or read forever. Those experiences do not need to be rare.

Those experiences are what makes all this worth it. Life is made up of a million experiences that add up to create meaning. The essence of our jobs is to Make life better, easier, and ultimately more engaging. What we do, and the way we do it can make life worth living for literally billions of people.

And if add a little rhythm to the mix, it can make everything a lot more fun.

Tools & Toys

I had the amazing honor of being part of the 2014 World Usability Day - Puget Sound Event.  All presentations were insightful, interesting, and most of all 'engaging'. I meet dozens of fantastic people and learned so much. Thank you to Mike Berg everyone who put on the event. See #PSWUD on Twitter for photos and quotes. A brief synopsis of my talk is below. 

Making Tools Feel Like Toys

Why work when you can play? Let’s take usability beyond form and function. Let’s make it more than simple. Let’s make tools that feel like toys.

My obsession with this topic began a year or so ago. I started reading about Flow and realized that I was addicted to the lovely chemical cocktail that my brain produced when experiencing Flow. Then I had the opportunity to work with Microsoft Game Studios on a co-discovery study looking at how expert and novice users engaged with the game and with each other. Our team started with question the question "What does the experienced user do to teach the novice the game?’ This study ended up at this year’s E3 conference.

I have come to understand that engagement is more than an encounter. Engagement is about connecting people and ideas in a way that delights, builds and grows. By studying how people play, we can better understand how to balancing learning and achievement to achieve engagement and Flow.

Simply put Flow is play, but more than that its perfection in play, its the optimal state of engagement. Not only can engagement optimize your brain function, it can also make you healthier.


In the end engagement isn't just about the user. It's about you. Before you can try to engage someone else. You have to engage. You are part of one of the most exciting, interesting, and multi-faceted fields out there. You have the power to make life not only easier, but you have the power to make life worth living for literally millions of people. If you can see how what you are doing fits into the the epic game of life for everyone on this planet, then maybe you might just find your way to flow.


Why should you make tools more like toys? This is why. If your users are given the choice to work or to play. Which do you think they’ll pick?

Reading List

Here is a list of resources and reading related to my presentation. (By no means complete...just the ones I saved.)

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi