Flow & Design Elements

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:


To create a flow state, we want to look at the conditions of flow:


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.

Moving On

The next time you are thinking about designing a user experience, try to think about the qualifications and conditions of flow.