Simply put, "flow" is a highly focused mental state. It is a level of engagement so concentrated, you don't realize that time has passed until you are out of your flow state. Mikhaly Csikszentmihalyi, the psychologist who coined the term, writes about "flow" in his book Flow - first published in 1990.
Csikszentmihalyi outlines the qualifications a flow state, and the conditions needed to create one. While I was reading it, it dawned on me how many conditions of flow are baked-in to good design. I am writing a more in depth post about designing for flow, but in the meantime, this post lists the qualifications and conditions of flow to consider when designing.
To experience flow, means you experience:
- Intense and focused concentration on the present moment
- Merging of action and awareness
- A loss of reflective self-consciousness
- A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity
- A distortion of temporal experience, one's subjective experience of time is altered
- The activity as intrinsically rewarding
To create a flow state, we want to look at the conditions of flow:
- High perceived challenges
- High perceived skills
- Knowing what to do
- Knowing how to do it
- Knowing how well you are doing
- Knowing where to go (where navigation is involved)
- Freedom from distractions
Owen Schaffer, a user researcher and so much more, came up with a questionnaire we can use to understand if the person using our application is in a flow state:
How much of the time did you know?
|Never||Half the time||Always|
|What to do next||○||○||○|
|How to do what you were doing||○||○||○|
|How well you were doing||○||○||○|
|Where to go next||○||○||○|
How much did you feel?
|Not at all||Somewhat||Very much|
|How challenging did this activity feel||○||○||○|
|You could overcome the challenges you faced||○||○||○|
|You were distracted from what you were doing||○||○||○|
Reverse the score of the last question to get Freedom from Distractions. The items above are in the following order: Clear What to Do, Clear How to Do it, Clear How Well Doing, Clear Where to Go, Challenge, Skill, and Freedom from Distractions.
The next time you are thinking about designing a user experience, try to think about the qualifications and conditions of flow.