You Need To Read This: Badass – Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

I’m about half way through a very cool book at the moment. It’s by Kathy Sierra who is now one of my internet heroes.

You can watch the book trailer above. But you should really go to Amazon and order it. Or download it.

It’s about User Interface Design. Or UX. This is a kind of side interest of mine. UX is what instructional design should’ve been.

Think of it as rules-for-how-to-design-cool-stuff-by-people-who-actually-make-money-designing-cool-stuff. Generally, not academics or educationalists.

Actual designers. Coders. And so on.

There’s a link on her blog. Check it out if you want to know how to design cool stuff.

How Should I Decide…?

More like Art or Work

Here’s something else that I’ve been thinking about recently: What criteria should I use to make decisions?

It’s easy to say yes to things. But it’s much harder to say no.

Recently, I’ve compiled and collected several decision-making heuristics. A heuristic is like a mental shortcut. A tool for helping to make quick decisions.

They don’t always serve your best interests, but I like them.

The first one is up above and comes via Seth Godin from one of his TED talks. If it feels more like Art, then, of course, I’m going to want to say yes. And do more of it.

Here’s another:

Joy or Annoy

This one comes via Sarah Knight who wrote a delightfully naughty book with the following title:

  • The life-changing magic of NOT GIVING A F*CK

And then there’s this one:

Hell Yeah

That comes courtesy of Derek Sivers. You can read his whole article here. He’s great to listen to as well.

And then last of all:


This one is inspired by Nassim Taleb. I posted a great quote of his on procrastination here the other day.

There’s a common thread here. They’re all just variations on the same thing.

So… the next time I need to make a decision, this is what I’m going to do: Listen to my gut… that’s my gut instinct. And then I’ll apply the rules.

(And… probably just ignore the answer).



How Should We Evaluate Our Training?

Kathy Sierra Post UX UX

I’m changing how I think about course evaluation… And how everything should be evaluated.

Here’s a new set of questions. Try them out for yourself after the next training session you deliver. Or attend.

Or after any new experience:

  • What did that experience enable?
  • What can I now do?
  • What can I now show others?
  • What will I say to others?
  • How am I now more powerful?

Or if you’re someone involved in designing something new… Or re-designing something. And your results are tied to the results of your users, then what matters is what happens when their experience with your training course (or product or service) is done.

Here are the same questions in their original form.

  • What did that experience enable?
  • What can they now do?
  • What can they now show others?
  • What will they say to others?
  • How are they now more powerful?

These questions come courtesy of Kathy Sierra and her excellent book: Badass: Making Users Awesome (p.56). There’s a link to the book here on Kathy’s blog.

Kathy calls this the post-user experience user experience. Buy the book. It’s awesome.

Four Tools For Building Cool Stuff Online: Or How To Start Thinking Outside The Box


I went to the Supercharge conference the other day in Wellington. This was a business conference… nothing to do with literacy, numeracy or even education (I know… thank goodness right…?)

Lots of cool stuff. The coolest though was the 40-minute presentation by Justin Wilcox of Customer Development Labs.

At the start of his presentation, he said that in the 40 minutes that he had to speak he was going to do the following:

  1. Come up with a product idea.
  2. Get some customer feedback.
  3. Build a website
  4. Launch the product

Considering that by the time he had said all this he only had about 35 minutes left I think we were all rather skeptical.

But he pulled it off. And these were the tools that he used:

1. Customer Discovery Ninja

Just this on its own was very cool to see in action. The Customer Discovery Ninja is a tool that allows you to connect to potential customers in North America. They sign up because they have time on their hands and get a small reward for participating.

Justin had decided that he wanted to create some kind of Fitness Tracking App, so he had selected various categories and subcategories in the Customer Discovery Ninja. And ended up with something relating to fitness, weight loss, and diet as the key areas.

From there, he opened the phone line and waited for the call. 10 minutes later someone connected and we listened to him interview a guy in New York who was struggling with diet and weight loss issues.

After a few minutes, it was clear that what this guy needed was not a fitness tracking app, but some kind of product that allowed him to track what was working when it came to diet.

So based on the dialogue, Justin switched away from his initial idea to the diet tracking idea. And then he had about 10 minutes left to do everything else.

2. Instapage

And this is mostly what he used: Instapage. Within about 2 minutes, he had built two landing pages for his new product. Instapage allows you to create web pages via drag and drop.

And then he  created an alternate version of the page so that you could do A/B testing. Instapage makes this really easy. I haven’t tried any of this yet, but based on the demo I think it’s all doable.

3. Powtoon

From here, Justin wanted to jazz up the landing page a bit with a short animated video. For this he used Powtoon. Powtoon advertises itself as an alternative to Powerpoint. It;s drag and drop like Powerpoint or Keynote, but you end up with a animation at the end.

So another 2 minutes to create a short animation. And then he imported this into the Instapage landing pages.

4. Celery

Finally, he wanted a button on the landing page to take pre-orders for the product. So he used Celery for this. Celery is very simple. It’s just a button for taking credit card information for pre-orders. Buyers don’t get charged until your product launches.

And then he launched it.

So Justin didn’t actually create the product, but he did something that was in line with the lean startup method: Come up with a minimal viable product idea and then see if anyone would buy it.

From here, he would be able to take pre-orders to fund the development of the actual product.

It was fast and dirty. But it was impressive.

Justin practises what he preaches as well. And you can have a look at his series of books on how to implement this kind of thinking at his website here: The Focus Framework.

This stuff is cool. I wish I knew this when I started in business. Talking to Justin afterwards, he said that everyone wishes the same thing. And that we all come to these conclusions late.

In my field, we tend to be good at what we do. But this is only in terms of our technical skills. We get professional development and training in these areas.

But we are often rubbish at the skills we need to use our technical skills to build and run a sustainable business. We don’t know how to make a buck… to put it in crude terms.

Most of all, I think we need this kind of thinking in education: Customer validation, lean startup methodology, designing a minimum viable product, product testing.

And then quickly pivoting when it’s obvious that something isn’t working. Unfortunately, the regulatory environment (both TEC and NZQA) act in ways that run counter to this kind of thinking.

This is not their fault. But it’s time to start thinking outside the box.

Really thinking outside the box.

Gamification 101: How To Turn The Course I Teach Into A Game


Technical stuff is hard to teach. This is because it’s… well… technical. As a trainer you have to work hard to make things understandable.

One way to do this is to turn it into a game. Or a series of games.

I’m interested in this at the moment because I’m experimenting with Cashflow 101. This is a game that teaches financial literacy.

My goal is to gamify the course and qualification that I teach. I want to incorporate some teaching of the concepts people need. But I want most of the emphasis to be on the game play.

I haven’t given up on my idea for Tutoropoly or some kind of cooperative board game where players have to work together to collectively win (or lose).

But I thought I’d tackle something a bit easier first. So I’ve devised a prototype. It’s more of a card game. And much easier to design and play.


The purpose of the game is to get people using the vocabulary that we use when we talk about our stuff. It’s kind of teacher vocabulary. It’s not very interesting to civilians. But it is the language of our trade.


So far, I’ve produced a paper version of the card game. We’ve had a couple of goes at this at home. The game play is Fish. But the next iteration will incorporate a few rules from Canasta to liven things up.

If I get around the finishing it, I might post the templates here. Anyone interested in a copy? Let me know in the comments.

Adobe Illustrator Is Transforming How I Develop Teaching Materials

Screenshot 2015-09-04 16.21.47

I’m really slow at this, but I’m enjoying how using Adobe Illustrator is changing and improving how I go about developing teaching resources.

There’s a lot jammed on this page, but it’s also high definition. It’s designed to be printed at A3 or larger if possible.

This is everything that my students need to know about the requirements for the biggest assessment in our course. It’s also the assessment that confuses people the most often.

What this conveys (hopefully), is that the teaching component boils down to 8 activities that sit under two learning outcomes. And all of this has to be backed up with supporting evidence that they’ve done the work.

This is not something I’d use as a slide obviously. But I’m a big believer in giving out one-page handouts.

Even if it’s an enormous one page.

Sorry, But All Four NZ Fleg Choices Are Rubbish

pinacle flag

Even if you had some principles for selecting a decent flag, it seems it’s too late.

Today we got to see the four fleg, I mean flag, finalists. It seems that someone has stacked the deck in favour of the rugbyist silverfernfleg lobby.

Here they are:


There are actually only two choices: Hypnofleg or Silverfernfleg in one of three varieties.

Can I just say for the record that I’m in favour of a change… But not if it means any of these insipid choices.

There were other designs that could have, nay would have, given us a an actual choice. It’s been a day of mourning for New Zealand design.

For fleg’s sake, can you just add a People’s choice wild card like the one at the top of this page?

Otherwise, I think I’ll be voting for the status quo.

four flegs