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What “The Good Place” Can Teach Us About (the) Good UX

What is Janet? On NBC’s genius sitcom “The Good Place,” the precise nature of Janet’s character is a bit confusing.

Light spoilers follow, but I promise, they’re not the big spoilers.

She’s “not a girl” and “not a robot,” she states at different points. At one point, she notes that she qualifies as “luggage,” but that doesn’t seem to cover it. Plus there’s an extra hiccup: many Janets exist, including Bad Janets, who have all the powers of regular Good Janets but are a lot less helpful and a lot more rude.

So what is Janet, the mysterious facilitator of events in the afterlife, the foundational “mainframe” of the different neighborhoods?

She’s UX, of course.

Well, to be more precise, my current theory is that Janet is basically an afterlife operating system on which different “programs” (the neighborhoods) run. (Is Mindy St. Clair’s house, where Janets don’t have powers, running on the afterlife equivalent of MS-DOS? A question for another day.) But the difference between Good Janet, who struggles to come up with a solid insult, and Bad Janet, who can’t recommend a frozen yogurt place without literally melting down? That’s UX, baby.

Which means that watching Bad Janet and Good Janet gives us a list of UX do’s and don’ts.

Let’s start with Bad Janet:

Michael: "Bad Janet?" Bad Janet: "What?"
NBC via logan-delos on Tumblr

Self-absorbed

Bad Janet is a terrible listener. Usually, she’s on her phone, barely paying attention to whoever is talking to her.

The UX equivalent: Let’s say a consumer goes to your website to buy a product or find a piece of information. Will they feel like you’re ready to help them? Or is most of your screen real estate taken up with “About Us” text or a self-congratulatory mission statement? The same applies to social content. Do your posts address followers’ needs, or are you just talking about how great you are? (A dead giveaway is how often your posts use first-person vs. second-person pronouns — we vs. you.) Look up from that screen and listen!

Michael: "Let's try that thing again where you pretend to be a Good Janet, okay?" Bad Janet: "Aww."
NBC via itspiperchapman on Tumblr

Michael: "Now, really really try your best." Bad Janet: "Fine."
NBC via itspiperchapman on Tumblr

Condescending

Bad Janet doesn’t care what you’re going through, you nerd.

The UX equivalent: Does your brand empathize with your users? When they’re struggling with your product, can they turn to you for help, or will you make them feel like they’re the problem? Does your content make consumers feel as if you and they are on the same team? Recognizing and validating a user’s feelings goes a long way toward making them like your brand — even when they’re having a negative experience.

Petruchio: "Why don't you set up the bar over by that wall?"
Bad Janet: "Why don't you roll off your mom and do it yourself, you fat dink?

Will eventually do what’s she asked, but doesn’t make it easy

Sure, Bad Janet will help you set up an event at the Museum of Human Misery. But she’ll only get to it when she feels like it, and the event will not be most people’s idea of a good time.

The UX equivalent: Do your website and social media profiles make it difficult for users to find answers to common questions? Step back: Do you actually know what most of your site visitors and social followers want? It may be time to dig into your analytics — and have some conversations with users — to make sure you’re on the same page. What pages and posts are most popular? Is that information easy to find? What do people search for in order to arrive at your site, and does your site give them what they’re looking for? What do people say in the comments on your social media posts?

Now let’s turn to the virtues of Good Janet:

Michael: "I will speak to you later. Go to your void."
Janet: "Okay." [tone chimes]

Always positive, but keeps interactions brief and useful

Janet’s got a sunny attitude, but she doesn’t linger. She does precisely what she’s asked to do, no more and no less. And when she’s asked to go away, she does so — immediately.

The UX equivalent: Not every consumer wants an intense daily relationship with your brand. If they’re trying to troubleshoot a problem, don’t waylay them with clingy requests to read lengthy blog posts and sign up for discounts. The user either wants those things or they don’t. You can unobtrusively make related content available (say, in a sidebar) without slowing the user down (say, with a pop-up that covers the screen).

Eleanor: "Whoa! Lots of new flavors."
Janet: "I recommend 'Full Cell Phone Battery.'"

Anticipates needs and points of anxiety

Janet is constantly learning from the humans she’s helping so she can help them even more efficiently in the future.

The UX equivalent: Do you know your users’ most common challenges in interacting with your brand? How can you intervene to prevent those challenges before they arise? What feedback do users give you based on your interactions with them?

Janet: "Every time a Janet is rebooted,"

Janet: "she increases her social awareness and abilities."

Gets better as she learns

Janet gets smarter with every reboot, developing new capabilities.

The UX equivalent: Your brand and your users’ needs are evolving – so your UX needs to keep up. (Imagine if Amazon’s website experience was still focused on helping you buy nothing but books.) Keep listening and thinking ahead to the next thing a user will want as market conditions and your product offerings evolve.

Jason: "Because you're the only person here that's nice to me."

Easy to work with

You never have to ask someone else for help for how to use Janet. She’s basically self-explanatory. In fact, she’s so simple to understand that Jason Mendoza, a complete idiot, is a big fan.

The UX equivalent: Picture Jason Mendoza using your website or browsing your social media profiles. Will he be able to find what he’s looking for? (I mean, he won’t find jalapeño poppers or Ariana Grande, but beyond that…) Will he get straightforward answers to his questions? If you’ve got a UX so breezy that Jason Mendoza can navigate it, then you’re golden.

Janet: "What has one thumb and wants to keep going? This not-lady."
NBC via tgpgifs on Tumblr

Ready to take on unexpected challenges

Janet helps people do whatever they’re trying to do, even if it’s weird. She thinks on her feet to react quickly and be as helpful as possible with any request.

The UX equivalent: Not all questions are FAQs. Is your site structure transparent enough that even the niche content is easy to find? If someone contacts you on social media, will they receive a prompt and helpful response? A willingness to roll with the punches is a fast track to winning fans.

So are you ready to turn your brand’s UX into the best Good Janet on the block? Good luck! Everything is (or will be) fine.

Credit for all images: NBC. Featured image photo via Colleen Hayes.

Published inContent Strategy

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© Mary Gaulke 2021