Flow as design tool... / by Jason Nunes

I've been in love with the concept of flow for quite awhile. It's something I experience quite often when I'm designing, or writing. I love losing my sense of time, and my connection to the physical.

Well, flow must be reaching its tipping point as a meme, as I've been seeing it mentioned everywhere. Mostly as a new measure of happiness, expressed very well in this Ted Talk by Martin Seligman (yeah, yeah, I'm a Ted addict... the first step is to admit you have a problem.)

But now it's blending into my life as a designer. Boxes and Arrows just published an interesting paper by Trevor van Gorp about using Flow as a goal or tool for experience design.


He's got some great points, my favorites being (of course) how user experience design that is focused on meeting specific goals or needs, can lead a user into a flow state.

1. Causes of Flow

  • A clear goal
  • Immediate feedback on the success of attempts to reach that goal
  • A challenge you’re confident you have the skills to handle

2. Characteristics of Flow

  • Total concentration and focused attention
  • A sense of control over interactions
  • Openness to new things
  • Increased exploratory behavior
  • Increased learning
  • Positive feelings

3. Consequences of Flow

  • Loss of consciousness of self
  • Distortions in the perception of time
  • Activity is perceived as intrinsically rewarding

As designers, we focus on the elements that precede or cause flow. Users visit sites with pre-existing goals (e.g., finding information about a product). These goals evolve over time as users complete tasks and their attention is drawn to other information. The main elements designers can control are:

  • Providing immediate feedback
  • Balancing the perception of challenge against users’ skills