Web application users are reluctant to do any work if they don’t know what the payoff is. You can’t write a description of the payoff because users don’t read.
What you really want is a demo, to show the user a picture or video of what they’re going to get in return for performing a task, but making demonstration videos is difficult, and if you hire a creative agency to do it, it gets expensive. (A two minute animated product overview can cost upwards of $50,000).
Fortunately, there’s a cool shortcut I call Reward is Cheese. There are two basic components to this technique:
- A blurred-out or obstructed view of what the user experience will look like. (the cheese)
- A primary call to action that, if performed, will give the user this experience.
It’s best shown by example:
Example 1: Do Work, Receive Cheese
Mixpanel is a web analytics company that focuses more on actions than page views. They show you trendlines for actions users perform in your application, but if you’re poking around Mixpanel before you install their tracking code on your site, they hint to you that they will give you some delicious cheese.
There’s a primary call to action at the top, offering to guide you through setting up Mixpanel on your site. Below that, there’s a blurred-out image that gives you an idea of the kind of party you’re about to walk into. Look at all those colors and dots, this looks like a Roman orgy of analytics.
If you do the work to install the tracking code, the reward is cheese.
Example 2: Cheese Isn’t Here, But It’s Nearby
tenXer is a startup that makes tools to help a programmer quantify his or her productivity. The primary landing dashboard shows you a graph of how much code you’ve modified this week, but if there isn’t any data for that week, rather than show you a zeroed-out graph, tenXer prompts you to select a different week.
In this case, I’ve already done the work to link my GitHub account to tenXer (which was not hard at all), but since I’ve been on vacation all week, it can’t show me any recent trendlines. The call to action overlaying the dummy graph explains this, and tells me what I need to do to get my cheese.
When To Use Reward is Cheese
You need two basic conditions:
- The user experience you are offering must be a reward, that is, interesting and engaging. Graphs: yes, displaying a spreadsheet: gonna have a bad time.
- You need specific data from the user or the user must perform some action external to your application.
Web application users are simple creatures. I know this because I am one myself. If the primary calls to action don’t lead me to what I want, I’m gone. I don’t read instructions, I depend on pictures and colors to get me to where I want to go.
Remember, user experience is the new intellectual property.