Tags : Web Design

The Psychology of optimal online experiences

Tags : Web Design

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's investigation of "optimal experience" proposes that what makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life. The author (with the unpronounceable surname) suggests this positive state can be controlled, not just left to chance.

There are other terms for flow; “in the zone” or “in the groove” will do just as nicely. Whatever you call it there are some simple guidelines for web designers interested in creating experiences that aim to provide users with opportunities for “flow”.

Don’t make it too easy to complete: If the experience you’re offering users is too simple to complete then they’re not required to engage beyond a superficial level, they don’t need to actively block out other external stimuli and they don’t need to draw on their greater powers of deduction, concentration and imagination. Without a requirement to focus fully on the opportunity or task offered there’s no chance they’ll get “in the zone”.

Don’t make it to hard: This one’s easy – if your user suspects they are incapable of successfully completing the task or making the most of the opportunity offered then they’ll give up. No “flow” for them.

Remove all distractions: being “in the zone” requires actively and subconsciously blocking stimuli that are not conducive to engaging with the task/opportunity. Help your users by doing some of this work for them. For example: Consider removing the navigation panel during the shopping cart phase of your website’s transaction process.

Provide feedback mechanisms that reward effort and refocus attention: Once I’m approaching, or IN, ”the zone” I need some indicators to tell me I’m there, or close. If you’re a surfer then you know you’re in the zone because the process of wave selection, paddle technique, pop-up and trim equals a ride on a section of peaking ocean and it “feels” good and you get the result you planned for.

Online experiences that aim to lead users to that same conclusion typically employ the same techniques: 

  • establish the goals that are achievable on, through or with the website (Buy shoes now).
  • outline what will be required to achieve that goal (three easy steps).
  • make it clear where your users are in the process and reward their efforts (you’re one step away from new shoes).

Provide a summary of what lead to the state of flow or success:

  • follow up the engagement to recognise the end or completion of that task or phase. Allow the user a chance to reflect on worked. This gives them a chance to understand the elements that lead to the successful engagement and the “flow”. This gives them better odds of getting “in the zone” faster next time and that results in return website visitors and loyal customers. (here are your new shoes, you clearly know what you want and how to get it. Here’s a discount voucher for your next purchase).