User Experience Process & Strategy |  Super Mario Brothers & Chaos Theory

User Experience Process & Strategy | Super Mario Brothers & Chaos Theory

Author by Damon Sanchez

When I was a kid one of my favorite games was Super Mario Brothers.  The hero Mario with his mustache and suspenders ran on a 2-Dimensional 8-bit plane avoiding turtles, jumping over pipes and gathering coins. 

Looking back at the 8-bit User Interface aside from the game itself, there was only a Scoreboard and a Digital Clock which in today’s gaming standards seems primordial.

The fact that even in a primordial state, one could argue that of all the games that have ever existed Nintendo’s SMB changed-the-world by making it just a little quirkier...

In the latest incarnation of Super Mario Brothers designed for the Nintendo Switch our mustache sporting, suspender wearing, gallivanting hero is equipped with a magical hat that can inherit special powers of certain characters in the game.  If one wants to gain the ability to fly, one simply throws their hat on a turtle with wings and Mario gains this ability.

Mario’s magical hat is a stroke of genius on Nintendo’s part because it extends the game into a realm of almost infinite possibilities.

Video games by today’s standards are like comparing a tricycle to a spaceship.  A tricycle being something a tune to a simple machine and a spaceship something with hyper complexity.  User Experience is often painted in this light.

For starters just think of the current landscape of technology from a device standpoint.

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We have experiences woven into technology ranging from 0-Dimensions involving the realm of sound, all the way to 3-Dimensional space in which overlaid objectivity heightens what we perceive.

Understanding these experiences as humans intertwined into the realm of technology, involves a host of various sciences and areas of thought.

 

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Wait… So, all those topics are covered within UX…? Anthropology… Really…?

 
Yes… To put the question into practice.  If you want to know more about a user’s experience inside your application, then knowing the context of a user’s environment and how it relates to the consumption of your application is a valuable insight.

Gaining an Anthropological Perspective through UX Field Research gathered  by observing a user in their natural environment sounds a bit “Jane Goodall” but it’s a valid argument for profitable and complete Customer Experiences...
 

It comes to no surprise that trying to distill a UX Process and Strategy that encapsulates so many diverse areas of thought is not only hard to accomplish, but it’s also hard to explain.

Keeping true to our early analogy of Super Mario Brothers, as a simple thought experiment, try to explain in a few words the original 8-bit SMB Nintendo Game.
  • You start the game with 2 lives
  • You collect coins, which increases your score
  • You avoid, Turtles, Man eating Plants, Fish, Turtles with Hammers…, Dragons…, Hot lava.
The point here is that fairly quickly you simply run out of objects, key areas and functionality to describe.

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The more complex a game or application becomes, by nature its harder to comprehend and then explain.

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There is a fun and profoundly interesting thought experiment in Chaos Theory called The Coastline Paradox which essentially states that if you were to take an aerial measurement of a coastline it would equal a fixed number.  But the closer and closer you continue to take images and measurements the coastline starts to exponentially expand or uncompress.  With each closer image you have to account for some-rock, or some tree branch or some oddity of landmass that was not at first glance visible in the previous measurement.
 

How the heck does Super Mario Brothers and Chaos Theory relate to a UX Strategy or Process…?


The conundrum of fixed numbers, or in the case of aerial photography often times uncompress the moment we start to refine edges, or zoom in closer.  The uncovered data sparks more questions and eventually we end up in an endless loop hence the name the Coastline Paradox.

The fundamental idea found inside the Coastline Paradox is really the basis for creating the foundation of any scalable process.

So if asking questions spirals us into an endless loop are we in fact  doomed to scope creep?

 
Like we’ve talked about in previous blog posts if we endeavor to start somewhere then a strategy for managing User Experience is in distilling UX into inarguable truths or immovable tenants about the human condition.

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We have emotions.

This aspect of the human condition cannot be bypassed, forgotten or left behind.  We take in stimulation through our senses and it invokes emotional context into our experiences.

We respond to sounds, colors, visual imagery and language in different ways which impact the way we use things.
 

We can only process so much information.

This aspect of the human condition controls so much of our experiences we rarely take it at face value.  Cognitive Processing is a real thing, when complexity is perceived it simply takes longer to comprehend UI.  Like the emotional context we place on an experience so to the amount of information we can process in each moment needs to be dealt with in equal regularity.
There is a reason why it takes longer to skim through a page with 1000 words on it, as opposed to a page with 5 words.
 

We are tribal by nature, and interpret interaction based on past experiences.

While more elusive and a little harder to understand due to relative learned behaviors we individually carry with us from past experiences, this learned response in the context-of-use is another inescapable aspect of the human condition.

We can postulate there are learned behaviors occurring during game play of each Super Mario Brothers and that we are conditioned to respond in certain situations.  The conditioned response of the learned behaviors can be used and built upon by Nintendo to make the experience better.  Because I defeated a turtle by jumping on it, I can assume this will work in the new SMB game.  Because I ate a mushroom and got bigger, I can assume upon eating a mushroom this will occur as well.
 
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If we can agree that these 3 core principles of the human condition are immovable from our UX Process, then the rest of a UX strategy starts to become tangible.

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If we bottle up typical phases of a User Centered Strategy there are certain prescriptive ways to handle and deal with emotional language, cognitive processing and the interpretation of function that carry more weight or inertia than others. 
 
This is not to say that other areas of a User Centered Strategy are not important, but the gravity of doing a User Persona and a User Journey can be positively felt through out a project as it impacts who the intended use encapsulates.  Likewise the positive impact of group consensus over UI Layout, and the effectiveness of approved visual language kindles what is typically referred to as fuzzy-design-logic into clarity.

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Contrary to popular belief the User Centered Strategy above isn’t just Waterfall in nature it also works in an Agile and Scrum environment, executed as feature sets and communicated through sprints.
 

So, if we foster group consensus and document User Personas, User Journeys, UI Wireframes and Visual Mock ups we’ll have a scalable UX Strategy... That sounds too simple to be true…?

 
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If you’re following me thus far, the idea of starting with 3 immovable truths about the human condition and executing on them inside a similar User Centered Strategy as shown above, we have a foundational way of containing problematic aspects of the Coastline Paradox as it pertains to our projects.

As our projects scale in complexity, following a UX Process acts like a vector and allows us to build successful super structures.
 

OK, that's deep... So the more complex our projects become, by sticking to a UX Process we're creating a contained vector for documenting UX?


A User Centered Strategy when executed with a UX Process allows us to build super structures.  Like we've talked about there are prescriptive ways in executing various UX facets.  Below is an example of a fairly simple UX Process.

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In conclusion, the UX Process above is very successful and used by many companys in the industry, but by no means is this the "only" UX Process.  With everything that has been covered in this article the main take aways are that any UX Process will work if it contains the core immovable tenants of the human condition and is maintained through-out a project.

In Part 2 of this series we'll talk about other UX Processes and take a deep dive into User Personas Workshops and User Journey Flows


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