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Evernote Trunk Conference – Real Magic – Insights into the Mind of Users

Evernote held its annual Trunk Conference (“ETC”) in San Francisco yesterday. ETC is for passionate people. Passionate end users of Evernote. Passionate developers who are extending the reach of Evernote by leveraging Evernote to build new and enhanced offerings. Me.

Evernote Trunk Conference 2012

Evernote Passionate People

One of the highlights of the event was a talk by Jamy Ian Swiss. Jamy is the best slight of hand magician in the world. Jamy has written for Penn and Teller. Why was a world class magician addressing an audience largely composed of software developers?

First a little background. Most know of Edward Tufte and his famous writings on visualization. Phil Libin is the CEO of Evernote. Like many who think about information design, Phil went to listen to a presentation by Edward Tufte. It was there that he met Jamy. Jamy has a chapter on magic in Tufte’s famous books on design. Jamy sees user interface and user experience design as fundamentally magical and illusionary. Phil loved magic from his days as a child. He “got it” and connected with Jamy instantly. Phil brought Jamy in to Evernote in its early formative period. Jamy has been working with the Evernote team since. His goal… help ensure there is real magic thinking in the experiences created at Evernote.

Software environments are illusions. UI is about creating familiar interfaces and innovative interfaces. UI is about finding new connections between existing tags and new things that have never existed before. Like a bad magician, bad interface remind you that there is an illusion in the first place. As Jamy stated, “when the audience is thinking of the method instead of the effect, you have failed.”

So how does one go about creating real programming magic? Break out beyond the computer screen into the mind of the user. The key skill: empathy. Jamy stresses that empathy is key for designers and key for developers. A magic experience occurs solely in the head of the audience. Therefore you must get your head inside the head of others. You need to understand their emotions and experiences.

Jamy also emphasized the importance of narrative. Humans are storytelling animals. Stories allow us to make sense of the world around us. Jamy stressed the importance of story in software. He used a toolbox for drawing as one example. The tools could be depicted many ways… randomly distributed all over the screen or organized in a way that invited you to touch and explore. “The best magic tricks are plots. No user will become deeply engaged in the toolbox without the proper narrative. The better the narrative, the more sense the toolkit will make.”

I will share more from ETC in the coming days. Congratulations to the Evernote team on delivering a great conference and a day filled with passion and inspiration!


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