“The PhD program in the emerging field of positive psychology marks an advance for serious research into human happiness and related quality-of-life concerns. It’s an arena drawing the attention of psychologists, as well as neuroscientists, economists and even political scientists.”
Csikszentmihalyi adds that “we don’t know enough about what makes life worth living, what gives people hope and energy and enjoyment. [...]
One emphasis in the program will be the “experience sampling method” techniques developed by Csikszentmihalyi.”
Her focus on alignment – rather than attention – is an idea worth exploring.
“The goal is not to be a passive consumer of information or to simply tune in when the time is right, but rather to live in a world where information is everywhere. To be peripherally aware of information as it flows by, grabbing it at the right moment when it is most relevant, valuable, entertaining, or insightful. Living with, in, and around information. Most of that information is social information, but some of it is entertainment information or news information or productive information. Being in flow with information is different than Csikszentmihalyi’s sense, as it’s not about perfect attention, but it is about a sense of alignment, of being aligned with information.”
Also check the Economist’s Special Report on Managing Information.
Here are some basic website traits that will help to encourage flow.
- Clear navigation: Make it easy for the user to know where they are, where they can go, and where they’ve been, by including signposts such as breadcrumbs, effective page titles, and visited link indicators.
- Immediate Feedback: Make sure all navigation, such as links, buttons, and menus provide quick and effective feedback. Offer feedback for all user actions. When this isn’t possible, provide an indicator to hold the user’s attention while waiting (e.g., progress bar).
- Balance the Perception of Challenge With the User’s Skill: Since user skill levels differ, it’s up to you to balance the complexity of the visual design with the number of tasks and features people can use. Consider whether they are likely surfing experientially for fun or completing an important task. Tailor your sites to your audience’s scenario of use: more visually rich for experiential use and less so for goal-directed use.
In web design, when we think about flow we usually think about “task flows” or “flow charts” but there’s another type of flow that we should keep in mind. It’s that feeling of complete absorption when you’re engaged in something you love to do without being disrupted by anxiety or boredom caused by tasks that are confusing, repetitive or overly taxing.
Flow, as a mental state, was first proposed by psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and is characterized by a distorted sense of time, a lack of self-consciousness, and complete engagement in the task at hand. Software engineers might feel it when they’re writing code, gamers might feel it when playing Guitar Hero III, Christopher Cross felt it when he went sailing. For designers, it’s exactly the feeling we hope to promote in the people who use our sites.
How do we create sites that inspire that feeling?
In alphabetical order: