Kathy Sierra writes a great post in her blog, Creating Passionate Users, that talks about the requirement to make things interesting.
The driving objective is to accelerate the user adoption curve – which Kathy calls the Kick Ass Curve. Any user is initially forced to focus on the tool, and not the task. The better the design of the tool, the faster they can master it, forget about it, and focus on the task at hand. Her graph brings it home – initially, users are frustrated and unproductive. Until they gain enough competence with the tool, they are trapped below the suck threshold. They climb into competence, and eventually to mastery.
The amount of time it takes them to cross this threshold can be a proxy for the difference between sucky software and great software.
Microsoft Office uses commonality of interface very effectively to shorten the time in the suck zone. Each application has a ton of “learn the tool” material – and by using a common set of menus, commands and experiences, the Office team dramatically reduces the sucking time for new users. Once you can save a spell-checked word document, or a presentation with a stock template, you are likely to have crossed out of the suck zone. And the familiar commands required to do that are in familiar locations.
When designing web applications, the flexibility to do “anything” makes it easy to do unconventional things. We can use interesting to help the users cross the suck threshold. Kathy talks about some ways to do it. Maybe they don’t all easily apply in our particular case, but regardless, getting users past the suck threshold is critical.
In the consumer space, this can be the difference between having and not having a viral marketing effect. In the enterprise space, it can be the driver of user adoption rates (and if users don’t use it, there goes the ROI argument for the project).