Why Game Design Isn’t Just For Engineers

Seth Sivak, Game DesignWe’ve all heard the buzzword. It’s a trend that’s sweeping through the business world and has taken new product design by storm. It’s transforming the way we learn, play, and exercise. It’s called gamification, and there’s a reason why it’s so hot right now. Incorporating gaming principles into products makes them more engaging for users and keeps them coming back for more. By including achievements like leveling up or collecting badges, users have goals to achieve, making it ever more enticing to play the game again.

So how can marketers and product managers apply these same concepts in their own fields of work? Intelligent.ly is bringing in Seth Sivak, CEO of Proletariat, a local game design company to teach you game design fundamentals. Seth has an impressive resume with extensive experience in the gaming industry, having been a former executive producer at Zynga, and graduating from Carnegie Mellon University’s Entertainment Technology Center. He gave us the scoop this week on the basics of how to incorporate game design principles into your product.

I.LY: What are some important factors to keep in mind when designing a game?

S.S.: The two most important factors to keep in mind is the audience and the promise that you, as the designer, are making to them. It is easy to fall into a trap of assuming that the designer knows exactly what the audience wants, but the only way to know for sure is to test it. Any assumption we make on paper we try to test out as quickly as we can because if too many unproven assumptions stack up the entire concept can quickly collapse.

I.LY: We’ve seen gamification become a pretty hot topic over the last few years. How can companies incorporate these same principles into their own products or services?

S.S.: Gamification is all about creating a strong feedback loop. Players (or users) want to be given a goal, something that they clearly understand how to attain. Then they want to get feedback on their progress towards this goal and finally when they reach the goal they want a reward.

To use the example of foursquare, the goal is to check in at as many different places as possible and to try and become the mayor by checking in the most times. Foursquare does a great job of giving feedback each time a user checks in at a location and gives rewards (which are sometimes a surprise) to the player in the form of badges.

I.LY: You’ve been in the gaming industry for several years now, working for Zynga and even starting your own company. How has gaming changed on a design level with the introduction of new devices and software?

S.S.: The new devices in platforms are drastically changing both the way we design games and the games themselves. The rise of social platforms, mobile and tablet have unlocked entirely new markets of gamers that used to be inaccessible to developers, and these audiences have different tastes. These new platforms also evolve the way core gamers want to interact and that is all about delivering a traditional experience in a fresh new way.

I.LY: Although gaming principles may not directly relate to one’s company or product, how can an entrepreneur or a marketer apply them to their everyday jobs?

S.S.: At the end of the day games are just really complicated products with the challenge of delivering something as nebulous as “fun”. I would bet that developing a game is very close to developing a product like Twitter, where there is no clear evolution from an existing service. The amount of experimentation and iteration that went into understand Twitter and how the audience would interact with it is exactly like developing a game.

We are all trying to create experiences for our customers, so there is plenty of overlap between entertainment products like games and traditional products, especially with the rise of gamification.

I.LY: If you could learn any skill in the world by tomorrow, what would it be?

S.S.: Wow, this is a great question. Probably learn a new language, like Japanese.

Interested in learning more from Seth? Attend his Intelligent.ly class by signing up today!

The 7 Rules of Responsive Web Design

Responsive Web DesignIn a time when it seems that almost everyone has at least two devices, if not three, to view websites on, responsive web design has become a hot topic in design circles. While it may be tricky to design for multiple devices at a time, we were lucky enough to have Tim Wright, Senior User Experience Designer and Developer at Fresh Tilled Soil, stop by at Intelligent.ly this week. He told us about the 7 Rules of Responsive Web Design, which are as follows:

1. Don’t call it mobile.

It’s not the screen size that makes a design mobile, it’s the fact that you can load it on a mobile device. Nowadays, devices come in all sizes, so don’t confine yourself to thinking you’re only designing for a smartphone or tablet.

2. Treat it as one site.

Don’t treat the site you designed optimized for large screens as a separate site as the one optimized for smaller screen sizes. At the end of the day they should both convey the same information and the user should have the same quality of experience.

3. Don’t target specific devices.

The variety of devices and screen sizes available today make it impractical to design for just one of them. Instead, make sure your design will respond to ALL screen sizes and devices.

4. Don’t remove content for small screens.

A user who comes to your site to consume ten paragraphs of content on a tablet device is just as likely to want consume that content as much as a desktop user. Don’t compromise the experience just because the user has a smaller screen.

5. Think in terms of features.

Although a smartphone may have a smaller screen that doesn’t quite fit a navigation bar as easily as a desktop, it doesn’t mean your user won’t need it. Find a way to still incorporate those less convenient features.

6. Seriously, don’t call it mobile.

Just don’t.

7. Consider the strategy from the start.

If you incorporate the end goal from the beginning and formulate your strategy around it, the design will only benefit and the user will have a better end experience.

Keep these rules in mind when you begin to create your responsive web design and you’ll be on your way to making perfect designs that fit any screen!

Usability Testing: 3 Ways to Tell If Your Website Content Is Working

Usability TestingAfter spending hours upon hours trying to design the perfect website and write the best copy, it can be difficult to tell whether or not users can navigate it successfully. Sure, you’ve installed Google Analytics, but that only only measures pageviews and clicks. What it doesn’t tell you is the users intentions, whether or not they are finding what they to your website for in the first place. So how can you measure the success of your website content? Usability testing is the most powerful way to do so.

How To Run a Usability Test

Don’t let the term “usability test” deter you–it’s not as hard as it sounds. All it involves is observing a potential user interact with your website in real time and asking them followup questions about what they liked and where their pitfalls were. Here’s how to run a usability test:

  1. Greet the user
  2. Introduce user to observers
  3. Explain to user how the test will work
  4. Giver the user tasks to complete and observe problems they experience
  5. General Q&A
    1. What are the 2 things you liked best about the product?
    2. What are the things would you improve?
  6. Debrief with observer by keeping a rolling list of observations

Once you’ve got the basic usability test format down, there are also a number of other, more specific tests that you can run to find the answer to different questions.

The 5 Second Test

Use this test to tell whether your content is making the correct first impression. It answers the research question, “How do we measure the success of content pages?”

It’s a quick and dirty technique for measuring content pages and takes less than 10 minutes to run. It measures whether or not content pages quickly convey their purpose. You simply show a user a page for 5 seconds and ask them what information jumped out at them and what their impression of the product or service is. Beware, this test is not for homepages because there is often more than one priority on a homepage.

The First Click Test

A home page is like a lobby of a hotel–it sets a good impression, but it isn’t where your users really want to be. This test answers the research question, “How do we measure the success of home pages?”

It’s a useful method to assess where users first click on your site’s home or entry page. To run the test, simply provide users with a specific task to complete when they arrive at the site. By observing where users first click, it’s a clear indicator whether they’ll eventually be successful

The Inherent Value Test

You may think you site is conveying the values your company holds, but that may not always be the case. This test answers the research question, “How well does your content communicate the value of your product?”

This is a two phase test that draws upon both already loyal users and prospective users who have little to no familiarity with the product. For the first phase, bring in the loyal users and ask them what they like about your site and to give you a tour of how they would normally use the site. For the second phase, bring in the prospective users, and after they explore through the website, have them tell you what they think are the important areas of the site. This will tell you whether the values you are trying to convey are actually getting across to users.

Usability testing isn’t as daunting a task as one may think. With these three types of tests under your belt, you’ll be able to effectively measure the success of your website content.

How to Design a Mobile App for Early Adopters

In today’s increasingly competitive space, mobile apps live and die by whether early adopters engage with them. But adoption doesn’t happen by accident, it is conscientious choices by the product designer that cater early versions to appeal to the gatekeepers of the app world.

Swimming In The iPool

Make it easy for early adopters to take a dip in your application.

Design your application (app) for the first 1% of users, and millions will follow

Everyone wants to get millions of users quickly. The trick to this is designing your app to appeal to the first 1-5% of users who will ultimately pick up your product (or the early adopters).

There are three key traits of early adopters are essential to consider when designing your product in the first phases of its evolution:

1.     Early adopters like to try new stuff

Don’t make it hard to explore your product. Your own user registration and authentication is a must, but provide Facebook login as option. Ask for as little information as far down the workflow as you can.

HINT: Never ask users to confirm email or password twice in an app – it is annoying and will cause drop off.

 2.     Early adopters like to brag

In this case, bragging is a good thing! Think about how you want early adopters to contribute, not just consume. Focus on a fun process for contribution, whether it’s a motivating User Experience (UX) or the gamification of contributions.

HINT: There is a delicate balance between easy contribution and content quality – make the desired action you want your user to take obvious.

3.     Early adopters like to connect and share

Make your app easy to share and inherently viral. This helps early adopters spread the word faster, but be sure to consider how they engage with their network. Sharing needs to be built into your use case, but, if social is not there, don’t force it.

HINT: Do not ask for offline processing unless absolutely necessary – this takes up precious time.

Considering these traits as you begin to build will be key for your app’s success. Remember to keep it simple and fun and your early adopters will help do a lot of the promotional work for you.

Image JD Hancock via Compfight

About Instructor Saad Fazil

Saad is a senior product manager for Nokia’s Location and Commerce group and previously co-founded VentureDive, a technology incubator. He blogs at http://sframblings.com/.  View slides from Saad’s class here.


How to Design a User Experience Like a Biologist

User ExperienceWhat goes into creating a great website? There’s the images, the copy, the colors, the fonts, the buttons, the margins, among all the other things that play a role. All of these items are just pieces of the larger picture–the one that encompasses the entire user experience.

“A lot of internet marketers find it easy to forget that the whole business revolves around pleasing their customers from the get-go. But what they don’t realize is that the experiences of users have a direct correlation to how well they perform in search engine rankings,” says Mary Anne Kelly of her own Affiliate Marketing blog.

But UX design goes deeper than search engine rankings. Good UX design penetrates into the heart and mind of the user and works off of their innate motivations and natural human tendencies. Aarron Walter, director of user experience at MailChimp, puts it best when he says, “User experience is not only about seeing the big picture of how our applications and websites are used, but also about how they are made.”

So who could give better advice on how to design around natural human tendencies than a former biologist? Richard Banfield CEO & Co Founder of Fresh Tilled Soil, a UX web and mobile design firm, and an actual former biologist, taught students just that at a recent Intelligent.ly class. He showed us how to design around each of our elements that make us human, starting with our brains.

The Brain

The primary reason humans evolved to have such large brains is to move our bodies and manipulate the world around us. No other animal has the range of mobility that our arms, hands, legs, and feet afford us. We have the unique ability to use tools, and even though our tools have changed over the years, the contexts in which we use them have not. Don’t over- or underestimate the power of touch in ux design. To be a good tool, a user must be able to handle it simply and effectively.

The other aspect about our brain that makes us unique lies in the fact that we experience emotions. Without emotions, our brains would find themselves incapable of making decisions. How we feel about a product really affects our motivation to use it.

The Persuasion Model illustrates that to get a person from a low motivation to a high motivation, we must remember that there are many different paths for a user to take to increase their motivation. People often find motivation in the level of difficulty they deem a task to possess. A product must not have a process that appears too difficult for a user to handle.

In addition to the difficulty level of a task, in order for someone to find motivation, something must trigger them to act. These triggers often come in sets of two, like rejection and acceptance (as is the case with Facebook), love and hate, and fear and hope.


Another important element in user experience is sight. Fonts, colors, images, faces, words, context, and associations all play a part in vision,but our mental filters determine the impact of what we see and remember. So if you’re selling an expensive product, but your design looks cheap, there’s a huge disconnect.

Humans are also the only animal that can “see” the future. Our brains allow us to imagine future outcomes and either get excited or nervous about them. Good designers will create a path for the user that will relieve the anxiety of pursuing the unknown. In this way, they will see the end goal, they will get excited about it, and they can get motivated to use the product.


Ultimately life comes down to sex. Being a successful human means being successful at transferring our genes to the next generation. In our modern information-driven age, though, we can also relate gene transfer to meme transfer. A meme is an idea that transfers information from one person to another without the need for sex. Therefore, someone who has the ability to successfully transfer information can also be considered a successful human being.

Images of people on websites also have proven to be extremely powerful motivators for initially acquiring users. Seeing another person using the product gives it a human side and allows the user to see who the product is intended for.


Humans are rational creatures by their nature. We draw upon data and our own logic to make our decisions. At the same time, we can also be manipulated into believing something different to what we see or hear. A great deal of this has to do with emotion, but  the way we were brought up has a greater pull.

Sometimes manipulation can be as simple as in the way a form is set up. A study found that countries that have an opt-out system of organ donorship have near a 100% participation rate in organ donors. In contrast, countries that use an opt-in system have drastically lower participation rates.


Human beings have brains for a reason and love to keep them working and engaged. For this reason, we can’t resist a good story. Storytelling is a powerful way for memes to transmit across time and speed up knowledge. Have your product walk the user through a story line in a way that they will find easy to understand and interesting.

All of these elements added together create the user experience. A good product works all of the users faculties in a way that is simple and easy for them.

For more great lessons, check out the other guides on the Intelligent.ly blog, or visit our class page.

Image Creative Commons License Public Domain via Compfight