Distraction and interruption are major barriers to achieving a state of flow. Being able to focus on the task at hand is key. By designing calm interfaces that hint and give information scent rather than flashing and colorful ‘suggestions’ we help reduce distraction. It’s the difference between knowing a chair is to be sat on (by recognizing its form) versus a big red sign above it saying ‘sit on this’. The sign interrupts and distracts: it’s an advert and it gets in the way of the goal.
Another key element to flow is feedback. When we speak about flow we often cite artists and craftsmen as examples of people in a state of flow. Here it’s their relationship with the tools and the medium that is key. It’s the feedback they get from the activity that hones their skills and draws them deeper into the state. The key with feedback is to be subtle enough not to distract yet nuanced enough to inform and guide the activity. When we design interfaces we work hard to create that same feedback between the user and the UI by continuously observing people using the software and shaping that exchange.
Encouraging flow helps people be amazing, and its core to our design thinking at Qlik. But there’s more to flow than just the individual’s experience. Csikszentmihalyi suggests it can also be experienced in a group. It’s possible for a collaborative experience of flow. Interestingly, it has been suggested that charts and data visualizations are incredibly useful tools in achieving this. They help engage and focus the group more efficiently. I’ll talk more about this collaborative experience in my next post ‘Embracing Dialogue’.
For an introduction to all four concepts take a look at “Our Design Philosophy at Qlik”.