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Book Review: Make Your Customers Dance

February 22, 2021

Cover: Make Your Customers DanceIn learning theory, a constructivist approach suggests that, among other things, the ability to gain new knowledge depends on a learner’s existing knowledge. The experience of trying to explain to people what User Experience is bears out this philosophy. In his book Make Your Customers Dance, Marc Majers illustrates the importance of user experience, while describing its tools and tactics in an accessible way.

Marc has a diverse background, as a Web designer, UX professional, and, of course, a wedding DJ. Many associate User Experience with Web sites, mobile apps, and software. Some go further and include products and services. Marc’s approach is unique in that he describes the design of a real-world experience: a party or wedding reception.

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Book Specifications

Title: Make Your Customers Dance: The Key to User Experience Is Knowing Your Audience

Author: Marc A. Majers

Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Publisher: Top Rate LLC

Published: December 11, 2020

Pages: 186

ISBN-13: 978-1-64184-472-7

The Dancefloor

Marc wastes no time in introducing the Dancefloor and Dancefloor Pro metaphor. In his construction, the Dancefloor is analogous to a Web site, app, software, or other product or service. It could comprise a variety of materials, be in any location, and the content—the music—could vary. Some Dancefloors are similar, but their experience is unique. A Dancefloor Pro, or UX designer, has the job of making the Dancefloor experience a positive one. Whatever the venue or content, the Dancefloor Pro employs certain methods to get people out on the Dancefloor and having a good time—similar to any well-designed product or service.

As with User Experience, a well-run wedding reception requires certain things. Preparation is key, as is understanding the environment, the number of people who will be there, and the preferences of these people. This involves some research, but it is possible to make the error of confusing stakeholder input with bona fide user research.

In an amusing anecdote, Marc relates the experience of working with a couple who wanted to hear techno music throughout their entire wedding reception—even during cocktails and dinner. As you might imagine, not every guest was enamored of techno. So, when an elderly grandmother—in a wheelchair, to boot—asked him whether it would be possible to play something more traditional for a few songs, Marc sadly had to decline grandma’s request. Predictably, many elderly relatives and friends made early departures. This particular lesson illustrates the dissonance that can happen when stakeholders know what they want and expect their customers to simply accept it. This doesn’t work for software products, and it doesn’t work for wedding receptions.

Marc proceeds to describe various UX concepts in Chapter 2, spending a fair amount of time relating Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience to the Dancefloor concept. While there is sometimes a temptation to dispense with the surface plane and visual design as less important than other elements, Marc describes how, as a professional DJ, appearance matters. When performing, he wears a tuxedo. Being presentable conveys professionalism and does not distract anyone. Even when they’re moving about to install their equipment, he and his crew wear clean pants and matching polo shirts to reinforce their sense of professionalism and attention to detail. Attention to small things tells the customer that he’s got the big things covered. The same is true for a Web site. Well-designed Web sites enjoy higher perceptions of credibility than those that might look similar to a Geocities site.

Understanding People

Understanding customer preferences, as well as their motivations, culture, and limitations, is important to delivering a wedding reception—or any kind of user experience—that all can enjoy. In terms of culture, Marc describes the differences that some groups experience—across different families and regions. For some groups, it is common to have music and dancing during dinner; others expect that there would be quiet, easy-listening music and no dancing during dinner. Recognizing the cultural expectations for an experience can help the Dancefloor Pro avoid having an empty Dancefloor. Similarly it can help organizations to avoid delivering software experiences that alienate prospective customers—as in the example that Marc provides, in which the conversion rate for a car-insurance company was less than optimal. Further research revealed that prospective customers abandoned the process when they were asked to disclose their social security number. Even though this data provided more precision in quoting premiums, it reduced the number of prospects.

There is a reason that many wedding receptions include familiar songs such as the “Electric Slide,” “Hokey Pokey,” and the venerable “Chicken Dance”—plus, many songs have a familiar 4/4 beat as opposed to something like dubstep. Most people—though not me—can competently dance to such songs and rhythms. Having a good time doesn’t require much technical knowledge. This is similar to the cognitive limits people encounter when using software. Relying on familiar patterns and terms and avoiding technical jargon facilitates a user experience that is accessible to a broader audience.

The User-Centered Design Process

Marc spends the bulk of book articulating the user-centered design (UCD) process in great detail. He shares information about many concepts that can influence the visual design of an experience, including typography, gestalt theory, and many others. He also discusses prototyping and evaluation. Marc advises that a designer should not take negative UX research personally. Here is a comical example that illustrates this point: At one of Marc’s earliest DJ gigs, an audience member feigned curiosity about the brand new Van Halen album, featuring Sammy Hagar, that Marc had played. When Marc gave the cassette to the audience member, he promptly destroyed it. Clearly he was more of a David Lee Roth fan.

Marc’s presentation of research and evaluation methods is extensive. He even discusses the use of galvanic skin–response testing, which, while impressive, might be overkill for many projects. But he doesn’t just promote novel research methods; he also provides solid guidance on how to perform low-cost, yet effective research methods such as heuristic evaluation and guerrilla testing.

Persuasion

The unfortunate phenomenon of dark design patterns has discouraged some in the UX community, who worry that the profession is descending into exploitative tactics in pursuit of profits. However, the use of persuasive patterns in UX design is vital to creating value through user experience. I’ve said it before, and I’ll write it here: companies don’t employ UX teams because it’s a nice thing to do—they do it because it improves their bottom line. Similarly, a Dancefloor Pro cultivates the desire to get on the Dancelfoor and dance with audience members.

Recognizing this, Marc provides advice on how to use specific persuasive methods in the design of products and tools. After all, without some degree of persuasion, people would be unlikely ever to do anything other than what they chose for themselves.

Conclusion

Overall, Marc’s book provides an excellent survey of UX methods and rationales. Its content is well researched, and Marc refers to existing literature throughout, providing a guidepost for those who would like to expand their knowledge.

Although this might seem to be a superficial criticism, the chapter lengths are very uneven. At five pages, Chapter 1 reads more like an introduction; while Chapter 4 extends across 93 pages, comprising more than 50% of the book’s text. 

Disclosure—I provided the Forward for this book. The author, Marc Majers, was a student of mine in the Kent State University UXD graduate program.

Vice President, User Experience at Metisentry

Owner of TheoremCX

Kent, Ohio, USA

D. Ben WoodsBen began his career in 1999, when businesses were just beginning to recognize the World Wide Web as a valuable tool. Prior to his appointment at Kent State, he held positions as a UX designer and UX manager. He has worked with global teams and a variety of consulting firms to deliver research and design that improved digital experiences for customers. He has also developed his organizations’ analytics discipline to track the performance of digital properties and identify opportunities for improvement. Ben’s company TheoremCX is an innovation firm that provides customer-focused solutions. He has developed solutions and corporate workshops for a variety of organizations around the world, including Eaton, General Electric, Knoch Corporation, and Orange S.A. Ben is the chairperson of UX Akron, a nonprofit professional network serving Summit and Portage Counties, as well as all of Northeast Ohio.  Read More

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