One of the first paying gigs I ever had was washing dishes at my parents’ church. It was one of those huge industrial kitchens where everything from the fridge to the counters was stainless steel. The dishwasher could do a load in about 60 seconds and when they come out they were so scalding hot that the plates actually dried themselves. The kitchen seemed to host an endless cycle of funeral luncheons, scout dinners, and potlucks. Quickly I rose in the ranks, from the guys who scraped half eaten plates of food into the trash to dishwasher operator; mostly for just showing up on a consistent basis. I know what you are saying, despite the obvious attraction of hand sorting red hot silverware and occasionally finding a set of dentures on a plate, this was not what you’d call a high demand job. Yet this was employment that I accidentally sought out and did some campaigning to land.
The reason I was interested in this kitchen all boils down to one thing: Access to the butter cutter. A simple tool really, just a rectangle frame with some metal wire. I never knew butter cutters existed, but now I knew I couldn’t live without it. Suddenly, I was looking for reasons to cut butter into tiny little pats. I didn’t even like butter but I was sure that I liked cutting it into serving sized squares. Make something mundane seem fun and I’ll do it for a while. Make it fun enough? I’ll manufacture a reasons to do that mundane job.
Maybe Tom Saywer was the first famous UX designer I can think of, he convinced people to whitewash the fence for him because it seemed like it would be fun to do. It’s taken a while to get around to it, but this is where I make the big point about user experience. People will do things, even boring things without complaint, IF you make it fun.
I used constant contact for a previous employer creating email marketing campaigns. Technically it’s a great tool: delivers good data, integrates well with “salesforce” and other customer management tools, but frankly it’s not fun. WhileMail Chimp delivers a nearly identical service, it clearly has a more humanistic fun experience driving its design. Small things like non standard validation messaging can go along way when dealing with a frustrating task
By adding subtle animations and interactive elements they make reports something people WANT to explore and learn more about. I actually spent time sitting at my computer refreshing over and over just to watch the results report update.
The end all be all of task nightmares HAS to be doing your taxes. I think the only way I could possible hate doing my taxes more would be if my W2 was attached to a giant spider that was constantly reminding me of my own mortality. If you haven’t used it already I encourage you to immediately fire your accountant and log on to Turbotax.com. I am hard pressed to find a more quintessential example of taking a long, difficult and complicated task and attempting to make it a pleasant human interaction.
Since this is a standardized end product (completed tax forms) Intuit needs to deliver is purely a service. This site lives and dies by its UX. The main draw is not necessarily saving you a lot of time. They break down the many types of deductions and incomes into digestible chunks that can be understood in a few short questions. To incentivize thoroughness you are rewarded with an estimated return calculation each time you complete a section of the process. Real time updates motivate the user to find every deduction possible to try and move that return needle higher. There is also a great deal of automation that is available from Turbotax allowing you to import your W2 and previous return history. The end result of the process is a stress free positive experience that gives the user confidence of the return accuracy.
So, Fun = Good UX… Then why isn’t this concept at the heart of all our designs? Sadly a lot of these “extra touches” that can make a big difference are seen as just that, EXTRA. Often the first things to be cut when delivering the minimal viable product and sadly fall off the priority list after launch. User testing should support these efforts to make the experience more fun. It falls on us as designers to use this as the foundation of the design so that it everything is built on its premise. Make it easy, make it fun, people will use it. Make it fun enough, and people will create a reason to use it.