A Happy Path vs A Winning Path

There is often talk in the UX design to define the users “happy path,” meaning, what is their main goal when using the application and how will they best complete that goal.

When my eight-year-old son started another season of little league baseball this past spring, our main “Happy Path” for him was to have fun and hopefully improve his game along the way. Throughout the season he and the rest of his team did just that, they even won a few games in the process.

Entering into the play-offs, we hoped they would win at least one game but didn’t expect much more. It wasn’t until they won the third game in a row, by quite a bit I might add, that I suddenly realized; something more was going on. When it was all said and done, they came in first place and won the championship game!

I started to think, what was it that made a difference in the play-offs? While the boys had certainly improved their skills throughout the season, so had most the other boys on other teams.

Make it Simple.

The coach didn’t give the team instructions as a whole, instead, he gave each kid very specific instructions. For example, the 2nd baseman might be told to make sure to step on your bag, whereas the pitcher would be told to throw to 1st base. At the same time, the 3rd baseman was told to hold the ball. Each kid, before each batter was told exactly what to do. So, very simple!

No longer did they have to think about what they were going to do with the ball after they got it. Of course, this wasn’t 100 percent fool proof, but it helped so much. The coach knew the only way to end an inning is to make outs, and one by one, that’s just what the boys did.

I then immediately started to realize all the different ways this translates into product user experience.

Target The Content

Targeting content to specific users requires having very specific personas. You’ve got to know who your users really are and have instructions specific to the task they are trying to accomplish. For example, on an edit page generic instructional text that says, “here’s where you create and edit items” simply isn’t enough. Instead, tell them WHY they need to create such items and then specifically HOW to best use them.

Limit Choices

When working on a very technically complicated product recently, we were struggling with the user defaults and how they flow through some wizards. At first we thought they can make edits to all certain parts of the particular item. However, we started to realize, did we want the user to make all these various edits, could they break something if they did it wrong?

We then started to talk more about what the 80% of user would want to edit and set up the path for that use case. The advanced editable options were left in for those users who wanted more control but in a collapsed section that was not in the way of most-common use case. Just because you CAN edit something doesn’t mean you NEED to be able to edit it at all times.

Winning!

Parents and kids alike weren’t just happy with the season; we were ecstatic! I now try to think about this at the start of any project, the goal is to not just create a happy path for the user, but what is it going to take to hit it out of the ballpark and get that championship trophy!

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