Turning Paper Cuts Into Magical Moments

Way back in September 2010 when I attended Design for Mobile my brain was melted by a talk about interaction design given by Itai Vonshak (@vonsh) of elements. It was one of those talks where your worldview just… changes. It's like when you sort of knew the concept existed but no one had laid it out like that where everything just clicks for you. The main thrust of his talk was this notion of magical moments. He has produced a series of posts based on the topic.

Magical Moments

As defined by Itai, magical moments are those times when you're interacting with a device where you practically fall in love with whatever you're using. They can range from subtle design interactions that generate a sub-conscience comfortableness with a product to more functional, in your face interactions where you have an "Aha!" moment when something just works easily. For the former the "bounce" when reaching the end of a list in the iPhone UI is a good example.

The thing about magical moments is that they're not limited to mobile. Yes, the talk was about mobile but really the concept can be expanded to any product or, frankly, process. As we talk about projects here I keep coming back to "How can we get a magical moment out of this?" Basically what can be done as part of the process or whatever it is that will make people fall in love with our school. Just think of the processes at a school that are clunky. Can any of those be tweaked to find that moment where a faculty member, student, staff member goes "Oh, that made my life easier and they were really thinking of me."? And I'm not only focused on prospects but also looking at how to retain current students and build relationships that extend to when they become alums.

But how do you identify where you might be able to (easily) implement magical moments?

Paper Cuts

Throughout your day you'll experience friction. Brief moments of annoyance. We'll call these paper cuts. Paper cuts are minor but they can cause just enough pain to be noticed and aggravating. Just try typing while you have one on your index finger. The Canonical Design Team defines paper cuts as "trivially fixable usability bugs." That's a little bit technical but you can read that as some part of a product or process is annoying but the issue can be fixed *quickly** and easily*.

While it may be easier, or even more fun, to build magical moments into new products or processes I would encourage schools to look at current processes or products to find the paper cuts that can be turned into magical moments. Identifying paper cuts would probably be best accomplished by either direct observation or, I would prefer, actual use. Until you go through a process it's sometimes hard to get a grasp on what might not be working and, also by going through the process, if you have inside knowledge it'll be easier to see how quickly an issue can be fixed (remember, paper cuts are meant to be minor and fixed easily).

Turning Paper Cuts Into Magical Moments

So if you've identified some paper cuts how do you make them a magical moment? Itai lists three ways to generate magical moments:

  • *Helpfulness – *Be helpful! Everyone enjoys a product or person that gives clear direction and answers questions.
  • *Surprise – *To some I think having a product that's helpful will be enough of a surprise but look for other ways to make the experience more personal. Speed of response can also cause surprise.
  • *Emphasis – *Make it clear to the user that you're offering the helpful advice or providing the personalized information. If it never gets noticed did it really matter?

He sums up these three points as:

The helpfulness creates addiction.
The surprise creates affection.
The emphasis makes the moment memorable.

As magical moments add up the hope is we can take advantage of a halo effect. Whereby these positive experiences add up and allow the user to perceive other aspects of the school better (like, say, making a donation as an alum!).

Isn't This Just Customer Service By a Different Name?

Yup. In the same way that, I feel, a lot of the power of social media is in it acting as a very personal customer service tool that by focusing on these magical moments, and especially in converting paper cuts, they will act similarly. Don't underestimate the importance of customer service and it's effect on the experience you're trying to portray at your school.

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