Make Magic Happen

magician wanted We can get so caught up in the basics of making something work that we too often forget to make magic happen. Truth be told, sometimes it can be really hard to get something to work at all. And so we struggle every day with software and hardware that are not intuitive to use. To add insult to injury, they often ship with documentation that is inadequate or unintelligible.

Today a friend called me in frustration asking for a help to complete what should have been a fairly simple online procedure. As his frustration ramped up, his ability to deal rationally with the software spiralled down. At the end he asked,”Can’t I just push a button to make this happen?” Unfortunately, the people who had created the code in question had barely made it functional. And they did not seem the least bit interested in making any part of it easy let alone magical.

So why am I obsessed with magic today? Because the experience of magic is what end-users are looking for. This is particularly clear with mobile applications. Art King, Global Information Architecture Lead at Nike, said at the Enterprise 2.0 Conference that users of mobile apps were pushing developers to offer something more than back-to-basics functionality:

Everything must be intuitive, intuitive, intuitive. The customer wants the mobile experience of opening the app and watching magic happen.

The magic doesn’t need to be earth-shattering. It can be subtle and still effective. For example, although it’s a small thing, every time I enter a physical address into my iPhone, I’m always grateful that the developer figured out that every word in the address field is likely to start with a capital letter and, therefore, set the default that way. This spares me unnecessary key (or rather “thumb”) strokes.

But we’re greedy.  We don’t just want magical mobile experiences, we also want to see magic when sitting at our desktops at the office. This puts pressure on law firm IT departments and legal industry vendors to meet the challenge set by Johna Till Johnson who believes they must “consider `magical user experience’ a design goal.” That seems like a simple enough thing, but why isn’t it reality? She describes the issue in the following way:

Nearly everyone I spoke with complained about the same problem: Enterprise collaborative, social, or mobile apps that simply weren’t easy or fun to use.

The root cause? Lack of proper usability testing.  This came up over and over, from almost everyone. Enterprises aren’t conducting usability testing, even if they’ve invested millions in their collaboration efforts.

Yet usability testing has fallen out of favor in the past few years.

I’m not sure why, so I asked someone who should know: Adam Hulnick, a professional usability tester.  “There’s a sense from senior managers that usability testing should no longer be necessary. They pay top-dollar for designers already– shouldn’t those designers be able to just create usable interfaces?” says Hulnick.

As we say in New York, “From your lips to God’s ears.”

If you’re interested in thinking about the intersection of magic and user experience, take a look at this advice from Danno Ferrin: Applying the Principles of Stage Magic to the User Experience. Lest you think this is frippery and not core to software, consider the trend away from mere functionality to truly delightful user experience as described by Jessica Stillman in Sprinkle Some Pixie Dust: The User Experience. Finally, if you’re ready to step into the big leagues, spend some time with Keith Barry (described as “a hacker of the human brain“). It may be that While a Magician Works, the Mind Does the Tricks, but I dare you to take a look at the video below and explain how he does it.

Then think about how you could bring some of this magic to the user experience of your colleagues at the office.

[Photo Credit: Argbx]

One thought on “Make Magic Happen

  1. Sounds like there is a great opportunity there for competitors to show up and make a better product. What’s the software you’re referring to? 

Comments are closed.

Create a website or blog at

Up ↑