Yesterday, the guys at Tapbots released a new app for the iPhone and iPod Touch: Convertbot [iTunes link]. To accompany the release of the app, Mark Jardine, designer of the app, wrote a nice blog post detailing the process he went through and the reasons behind some of his decisions. The whole thing is worth a read, but I’m going to focus just on this one segment:
There is a slight learning curve in using Convertbot, but we don’t see that as a bad thing. Our apps are designed more like a game. Whenever you play a new video game, you need a little time to learn how the game works and how it controls. Even the most well-designed game interfaces require time to learn and get comfortable with.
What Mark touched upon is a true gem for any company—but especially startups—that are looking to make their product(s) stand out in the market. A good marketing campaign may do a fine job at putting your product in people’s minds, perhaps you’ll even succeed at convincing them it’s somehow better anddifferent from all competing products. But that effect will last you only a little while past the campaign’s expiration date.
Learning things; performing utilitarian tasks; keeping track of your medications; these are all things that are considered dry, boring, mundane chores, but they don’t have to be. By borrowing concepts from games the User Interface on these tasks can be made more fun and playful, which is something that will resonate with people of all ages.
Users will unlikely be able to isolate what exactly it is that makes them enjoy your product over others, but even if only a small percentage is able to vocalize it to the rudimentary “it’s just fun to use”, you’ll have achieved some significant success. Nintendo’s Wii console wins no competitions in terms of graphics, processing power or typical game complexity, but since the console and the games on it are just so much fun, they can’t quite sell enough of them.
Of course, that is a video game console example; it had better be all about the fun! Let’s look at another example.
At this point I’m immediately reminded of the Brain Challenge [iTunes link] app on the AppStore: it may be designed, presented and marketed as a game, but it really is a training tool to keep your gray mass in shape. It’s just so much fun to use that you’ll be that much more inclined to send your brain to the gym each day, so to speak. Imagine the unmeasurable value coming from turning a helpful task into a fun game to play.
This philosophy does not limit itself to applications. In my opinion, anything that is a user interface of some sort can benefit from these principles, including a website UI. The site formerly known as I’m In Like With You had this figured out early on, but then went into the gaming direction entirely and got rid of the original idea that had brought it to life. They’ve now become an online arcade of sorts, which doesn’t interest me personally, but back in the early days it was a highly fun site designed for making new online and real-life friends through a variety of gaming-inspired methods.
The unmeasurable value of how much fun something is, is a most crucial element in education. Linda Popolano wrote about this very thing in her recent column, Making Learning Fun Again: A Critical Element in Deschooling. In it, she tells of her son’s disinterest in learning and how she used a large variety of ways that made the process of learning fun, and how that completely changed her son’s attitude towards learning around.
Back to setting things apart in the market. Taking cues from video games to enrich your product is not enough by itself to make it great, but if your product is a lot of fun to use then you have yourself a recipe for more sustained success, even though it won’t be easily measured by any normal metrics. You’ll just know it from your happy customers.
After all: if your product is fun to use, then there is nothing that keeps a user from reaching for it when she needs it.