Jan Bidner talks about UX, clowns and gamification | Episode 60

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Jan Bidner is as a gamification designer and UX strategist and has worked as a consultant in the IT Industry for over 15 years. He has been an advocate for storytelling, game design thinking and user-centered design even longer. With a background in acting and teaching drama, he always brings a bit of playfulness into everything he does. Lately, he has been working a lot with the digital workplace, UX and change management. He is finding gamification angles in each project that requires long-term strategies, user engagement and behavior change (which is pretty much every implementation project). Jan is passionate about schools and learning and also works part-time as a hospital clown. He is active within in the gamification community and also one of the founders of the Swedish podcast Gamificationfredag. Watch his fresh mini vlog series about gamification in Swedish “Gamificationskolan” that runs in December.

Regular days are pretty rare because he gets bored and usually reinvents the wheel while looking for the best specific solution for every specific problem. He defines himself as a “why guy”. A perfect day would start with him waking up early after getting a good night sleep (though these two don’t happen together very often), then having a long breakfast while reading interesting things that make him think about gamification, UX and more. Then a couple of hours designing concepts, perhaps some calls with colleagues, clients, and then having lunch. That would be followed by biking to the office to hashing different solution ideas, prepping presentations and perhaps reading and writing blog posts. Some days he would finally go to the gym and/or going to his second job as a hospital clown with kids that have cancer. He has learned a lot from this with regards to fun and others.

The times when he has failed the most are the times when he has failed to manage expectations. This could be from lack of communication and others. One example was from a time when he didn’t have direct access to the product owners for the project, his contact was almost blocking them from interfacing directly and filtered information with an own agenda. The problems started to get heavy in a meeting with the process owner interrupting an update meeting saying that the expectation from the start was not to work with a certain technology, which was never mentioned by Jan’s contact before and was actually what they were using. This just led to a cascade of problems. Now he has learned this lesson and does not accept any sort of interface or interference between him and the actual decision makers. Managing the expectations is now a key for him, Jan now tries to do as much visualization as possible to reduce the risks of misunderstanding, as well as signing off very specific things.

One of the projects he remembers as a success involved the design of a tabletop game for managers of hospital satellites and revolved around distance-care technology for health. The problem they were facing was skepticism from most of the managers. This resistance stemmed from the typical fear of the unknown and resistance to change, as well as dehumanizing care and tech failures. He did a pre-study to understand both expectations and profiles, where they realized that the opportunity was to do some intervention during their quarterly meetings (they are usually far away from each other). Decision-makers were really involved which helped a lot, and they changed their previous ideas from a full-blown simulation to an almost non-tech solution. It was a sort of resource-handling type of game, perhaps inspired in games like Settlers of Catan. You played as the manager of a hospital-satellite where you got to manage the budget, these choices affected your capacity to provide care to a certain amount of patients.

Jan’s first experiences with gamification involved Yu-kai Chou‘s Octalysis as well as Andrzej Marczewski‘s Player Types. At the start, he thought that there was some sort of magic thing that solved these problems. Nowadays he views it more from the side of the mechanics point of view, what is the core loop, what are the rules and others. Even though he still references both of these gurus as a reference, he uses the user-centered perspective of design for most if not all of his projects. He often starts by helping the client define the objectives, he often uses Impact Mapping for this, asking the why many times to arrive at the real core. This also involves finding out how to measure success in such an objective. Next would be whom do you want to engage within your project so you understand them better, which is followed by defining what you want them to be able to do. Then you find out how you would support them into achieving such a capacity. The main difference between regular design and gamification design for Jan is the concept of the players, which he feels are a lot more active in their role than a regular user. Also the fact that as opposed to UX many times you are adding instead of removing friction. One more thing that would be important to consider is that gamification has to be a strategy and not just a quick fix! This doesn’t mean that engagement cannot be for the short-term, this depends on your objectives but it does mean that you cannot just slap game mechanics and expect it to work.

A best practice for gamification is to dedicate more time to make sure you really understand the problem you are trying to solve! If he had to pick one game as his favorite it would be Pinball! He also enjoys concept games like Monument Valley. He would like to listen to three people in Professor Game, one of them would be Sebastian Deterding. He also mentioned a couple of fellow Swedes: Adam Palmquist of Insert Coin and Elin Nilsson of the Umea School of Business, Economics and Statistics!

Jan is now starting at insertcoin.se and is quite excited about it. He would like to recommend the Sprint book, so we use design sprints which he feels is a fantastic way to do design. His superpower is to come up with weird and out of the box ideas! He is quite spontaneous, so these are ideas that perhaps initially come out as just weird but when polished are able to solve problems in a cool way. He says that he is quite able to adjust to the context, especially when presenting at meetings. The random question comes from Attila Nagy and is related to the use of gamification in non-for-profits! Listen to the question and answer by clicking play up ahead.

We can find Jan on Twitter @janbidner or even on his email as jan [at] insertcoin [dot] se! He also has his vlog on YouTube, even if you just Google his name you will find many more interesting things. Thanks Jan for spending this time with the Engagers!

And now that you’re here, a few days after this episode I was interviewed on Jan’s YouTube vlog, it’s a quick interview which you can take a look at by clicking here!


There are many ways to get in touch with Professor Game, you can go to my Twitter @RobAlvarezB, my Instagram, our Facebook Page, subscribe to our email list and even ask a question to future guests!

Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,


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