Home Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra

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What is a badass? I love the word itself, because there is practically no way to use it in a negative way. It's a good word.

In Kathy Sierra's book, the word badass is used to describe an expert. Somebody that has learned a skill, crossed the "valley of suck" and achieved mastery.

You can buy the book on Amazon by clicking here.

This book has been very influential to John and I as we've built egghead over the last several years. In fact, we send a copy to every instructor when they receive their pro audio kit. We've never formally followed up to see if they actually read the book, but I hope they do.

This evening’s rooftop reading: Badass: Making Users Awesome by Kathy Sierra!

Time to really understand why @jhooks and @johnlindquist believe in this book so much they sent it to me 🤔

Paired with some cheap Bordeaux for extra awesome🍷 pic.twitter.com/NJMuKtjddI

— swyx 🗽 (@swyx) July 24, 2018

This book is relatively short, and it is full of pictures and diagrams in Kathy's "head first" style that she pioneered in her O'Reilly book series. It's a serious book though, and arguably one of the most approachable books on instructional design and user experience that I have ever encountered.

This page contains my notes.

This page is written and maintained so that I can reference and add context to the book based on my context and understanding.

While I read this book when it was published in 2015, at the time I was very immersed in building egghead so was able to "get the gist" and apply the ideas and philosophy in a loose sense.

Over that time, most of the focus that were we have applied Badass has been in the practice of on-boarding content creators as instructors, and tuning that process. The skills that go into producing Badass educational content are daunting, non-trivial, and require study and practice.

If you want to be a badass screencaster, it takes a lot of hard work.

After several years of running egghead, I'm revisiting Badass, but this time I want to go deeper. Even at a surface level its helped us by providing an anchor that we can point to and say "ya, that's what we are doing. We're making badass instructors and badass web developers that they are teaching" as a core and driving philosophy.

But this time I rereading with a highlighter in hand and a mind eager to understand and apply the lessons Kathy is providing in a deeper way. I want to follow the thread, and correlate Badass directly to the contexts that we work on every day at egghead.

Here's my favorite excerpt that sums it up very concisely:

Badass at Life

You have the chance to help people become more skillful, more knowledgeable, more capable.

You have the chance to help make the world a little more high-res.

You have the chance to help people become better learners and better managers of their own limited cognitive resources.

You have the chance to help people spend more of their scarce, precious cognitive resources on the people they care about.

You have the chance to raise the bar on what it means to care about users as people with lives. Complicated, resource-draining lives.

You have the chance to help people become more badass not only at using your > tool within meaningful context, but badass at life.

Raw Notes & Highlights

These will be my raw highlights with some commentary to supply thoughts and context. If you've got comments or suggestions send them on twitter or github.

The Challenge > Prologue

This chapter is the introduction and is geared towards taking a step back and really considering your business from a user perspective. Why are they here in the first place? What do they even want to be badass at it? It's probably not "I want to be badass at using a video blog website" lol

Your thing is a subset of some bigger, more compelling thing. What's the context in which your product or service is used?

This is a great question and requires a layered answer for most real-life businesses. For egghead we've got two different broad category of users, so we have to consider the primary context for each.

Tools matter, but being a master of the tool is rarely our user's ultimate goal.

The book discusses the idea that often users are promised one thing with marketing, and then afterwards are left with a technical manual and a sense of being totally alone with the tool so that they can figure out how to get to their compelling context - what they want to be a badass at - all on their own.

They don't want to be badass at our thing. They want to be badass at what they do with it. They want badass results.

It's the context that really matters, and being better means better results. We all crave better results!

When you are more skilled at something, it's as though a part of your world got an upgrade.

When we "level up" we literally see the world differently. As we achieve better understanding, hone our skills, and gain more knowledge we start to see the world at a higher resolution as it relates to the context of what we are learning.

Badass means higher resolution. Badass means deeper, richer experiences.

Kathy points to music, wine sommelier, chess, and astronomy as examples of areas where learning and knowing more opens up more detailed abilities to perceive and understand.

Don't just upgrade your product, upgrade your users.

This is about outcomes. Literally everything is about helping people achieve their desired outcomes in their particular context. That's what our products should strive for, and just tacking on features without a focus on the identities and outcomes our users desire is the wrong approach.


Badass users talk. They're our best source of authentic, unincentivized, word of mouth.

Which is great, who doesn't want that?

We want our users to become better and better at the bigger context, and help encourage others to do the same.

Kathy calls this the "word of obvious". Instead of simply something folks mention in passing, we want to strive to be the obvious choice for the broader context our users are working to achieve.

It's not about helping users feel badass. It's about helping them be badass.

And this is an important distinction. Results > Feelings

The role of customer service is to support and enable users to not just feel better, but to be better

That's the service. Feelings are fluid and temporary. We focus on results.

the proof doesn't live in what we do, but in what our users do as a result.

Don't make a better tutorial video. Make a better frontend web developer.

Don't make a better course proposal format. Make a better coding content creator.

The Challenge > The Prologue > Think Badass

To create sustained success, create high-resolution badass users.

If there is a single takeaway from this book, this is probably it. There's a shit load of takeaways in this book, but first and foremost the idea that we can build really high-quality useful educational materials that help real people achieve the outcomes and identities they strive for...

That's the "trick". It just fuckin' works. No "growth hacks" or other bullshit involved, just helping people in a real way.

The UX of results

That's the UX people actually want.

What did the experience enable?

What can they now do?

What can they show others?

What will they say to others?

How are they now more powerful?

This is an amazing stack of questions to have in your head when you sit down to craft your users' experience with your tool. If they are hard to answer, then you are wasting your time, their time, and probably lots of money developing some wrong shit.

A recommend exercise in the book is to think of your user after they use your thing, and the days that follow. In your mind's eye, consider a film crew following them around capturing every moment:

Write a detailed description of what you see and hear for the time-frame that makes sense for your bigger context.

This is the "post-UX UX" and most of the time it is not even considered at all. By anybody.

Another thought experiment:

Imagine one of your users at a dinner party, and describe what you do (or could do) to help him be more interesting at that party. What have you given him to talk about (that isn't about you). What have you given him to show?

We have to consider how we lift up our users and make them shine instead of ourselves. We can replace "our" with "our users".

How can we get more social media followers -> How can we help our users get more social media followers.

Home can we get more comments on our posts and photos -> How can we help our user get more comments on her posts and photos

This is 🤯

Instead of focusing on our brand we double down on our users' brand and help them shine.

This makes so much sense to me, and has been a core part of our strategy for content creators/instructors with egghead, but is something we can do even more of.

how can we create an influencer from a person who is active in our target audience and most likely to benefit from becoming better?

This is such a great question, and when you apply this type of motivation instead of simply focusing on yourself, it opens up a world of opportunity.

The Challenge > The Prologue > Think Badass > The User Journey

if our tool is complex or difficult with a potentially long learning and mastery curve, we'll need to think about where are users are on both curves

Curve for the bigger context Curve for the tool

For egghead, the bigger context is badass web developer. What's the tool? Is it the site that we are building? The platform? Or is it the tools that we teach?

There are several curves in play and they get more interesting when you also consider the creator curve(s) involved. badass instructor is definitely one of the compelling contexts that we present.

the to most important [milestones] are crossing the Suck Threshold and crossing the Badass Threshold

When we start out with any new skill we suck. As we get better we start to level up. Evenutally we can be a Badass, but it takes effort and ideally if we keep at it we get better and better (not always the case)

There is a huge danger of being defeated in the Suck Zone. You suck. That's hard. The thing is hard. Fuck it. Fuck this.

Not only that, sometimes things change. "Upgrades" and new versions can smack you right back into suck.

And sometimes you cross out of the suck zone and level off at mediocre

they're no longer moving up and to the right, they aren't increasing resolution, gaining new skills, or becoming more powerful

the benefits of badass depend on users steadily moving up the curve, not leveling off at "competent"

Simply getting past the Suck Zone can feel badass

We don't all have to be the best, the greatest, the biggest baddest badass...

By treating users as if they were trying to be badass, we help all users build higher resolution abilities. We don't create a separate "good but not expert" path. It's all one path, and some go further than others.

This is so true for coding, in particular. You can practice for 10 years and be a true badass, but there is so much more to learn and so many different branches to the skill tree. Up up up.

Let them know early that the early steps are the same no matter how far up the expertise curve they want to go.

We all literally start someplace. We all suck at some point. It's like paying your dues. Learning the basics. The fundamentals are the same.