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Designing For Flow

Elise Pescheret

I recently have been researching the concept of “flow” and how, when integrated into our lives, the perceived result is a happier, more fulfilled individual.  Flow is defined as the mental state when a person performing a task is fully immersed, focused, and is enjoying the process of the activity at hand.  
*If you are unfamiliar with this concept, I encourage you to watch this enjoyable Ted Talk given by Mihaly Csiksgentmihalyi. 

The state of flow requires a bit of skill in the environment which flow is to exist - for example, a composer experiences flow when creating music due to the fact that he/she is knowledgeable in this field.  While flow occurs most commonly in those with a certain level of skill or understanding, there are tertiary stages of experience which can turn into flow over time.  When one is in a stage of “control”, they are secure but not challenged.  In order to reach a state of flow, they must increase the challenge.  Conversely, in the state of “arousal”, one is challenged but not completely secure.  By accepting the challenge as a vehicle for learning, one can reach a state of flow once they’ve become more adept at the skill at hand.

If we consider the idea of flow when designing user experiences, an experience is not singular but rather the intuitive flow from interaction to interaction, resulting in a harmonious experience.  I feel the defined principles of flow provide a great rubric for designers when considering a user experience from beginning to end.

1. Clarity of goals and immediate feedback:
The rules of success are clear and the user is aware of their actions throughout the experience.  Clarity is key.

2. High level of concentration on limited field:
Ability to maintain focus on the task at hand, taking into account the inevitable chaos of the everyday world

3. Balance between skills an challenge:
If a task is too simple the user will get bored, but on the contrary if it is too challenging, the user will abandon the task all together.  There is a direct correlation between the users skill level and the difficulty of the task

4. Feeling of control: 
Feeling calm & in control, which can be attributed to a sense of security.  A user should never feel stressed or feel that their privacy is at risk.

5. Effortlessness:
This ties along with the task’s level of difficulty - similarly, while the user must be challenged, they also must navigate the task smoothly, guided by inner logic.  The solution must be reached intuitively.  

6. Altered perception of time:
Partnered with the deep concentration of the user, when they are experiencing flow, time is of no matter to them.  They are focused solely on the experience at hand.

7. Melting together of action & consciousness:
In addition to the lack of concern over time passed, the user is also not distracted by any other cerebral concerns.  They are in a state of balance, where their actions are directly tied to the resulting experience.

8. Immediate Return on Investment
Overall, the experience must have an apparent immediate value to the user and must be enjoyable throughout the entirety of the task.

As designers, we can strive to create digital & real life experiences that help put more of the everyday life in the flow channel.