Why no one will ever care about the boring, complicated crap you’re working on

sesame street

“Sesame Street was built around a single, breakthrough insight: that if you can hold the attention of children, you can educate them” – Malcolm Gladwell

A friend of mine from ad school brought this quote to my attention a few weeks ago. It is, of course, the basic idea around which everything that comes from our industry is built. Just substitute “educate” for “sell”, and “children” for whatever your target market is. (Which admittedly might be children.)

It’s something to meditate on for the ad industry. Dealing with clients, spreadsheets, deadlines, egos and empty beer fridges can distract us from the most important thing any ad has to do, no matter what it’s selling or to whom: entertain. Without offering our audience some reward for bothering to glance over at us, they never will.

It’s also something I’d like to see the game industry consider more often. With such an enormous power to entertain, the potential for education is incredible. Yes, the world is full of educational games, and yes, I think Oregon Trail would make a completely awesome MMORPG. But beyond that, a little complexity, hard science, or historical research couldn’t hurt whatever game you’re working on now. I’d effing love to see game studios start partnering with non-profits to address modern issues in ways as engrossing and far-reaching as Halo or Bioshock.

I would also tell this to all you academic types out there. I don’t care how many 5-syllable words are in the title of your doctoral thesis. The kind of writing encouraged in academia is designed to obfuscate. It’s elitist and it will never change anything about the world because the few people who bother reading it, if they understand it at all, are at best just going to quote you in some other, equally obfuscated paper of their own.

The people I truly wish would tattoo this message on their foreheads, though, are the ones in education. Which is sad because they’re also the ones who are least likely to read this.

The more they understand, the less they need memorize

I could write an entire post on how I think our education system could be improved, and maybe I will someday if I can figure out how to make it relevant, but it boils down to essentially this.

The thing is, people love learning. They hate trying to learn. This is where usability comes in. Make it easy, make it fun, and you can make people learn/think/do almost anything. Make it boring and complicated, and you lose.

“Understanding” graph thanks to Creating Passionate Users.

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  1. By pbs kids :Kids’ Games | pbs kids org on November 17, 2009 at 23:09

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  2. By uberVU - social comments on December 15, 2009 at 22:36

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