Flow in Web Design--Chapter 2 from Speed Up Your Site (4/5) WebReference.com | WebReference

Flow in Web Design--Chapter 2 from Speed Up Your Site (4/5) WebReference.com

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Speed Up Your Site, Chapter 2: Flow in Web Design

An Interview with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

To find out more about flow, speed, and web design, I talked to Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, who popularized the notion of flow.

Andy King: You talk about immediate feedback being a prerequisite for the flow state. How does speed of interaction influence flow?

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: If you mean the speed at which the program loads, the screens change, the commands are carried out—then indeed speed should correlate with flow. If you are playing a fantasy game, for instance, and it takes time to move from one level to the next, then the interruption allows you to get distracted, to lose the concentration on the alternate reality. You have time to think: "Why am I wasting time on this? Shouldn't I be taking the dog for a walk, or studying?"—and the game is over, psychologically speaking.

King: Responsive feedback of an activity and feelings of control go hand in hand. Can you elaborate on that?

Csikszentmihalyi: Actually it's not so much the "feeling" of control, as the fact that you can act without thinking, without interruption, and making your own choices (for example, BEING in control). If a computer program has a mind of its own, is not responsive to your commands, or is so slow as to appear to be a moron, then you are again brought back to "reality" and lose flow.

King: Has your definition of flow changed over the years?

Csikszentmihalyi: The only change has been that we found it takes above average challenges AND skills to get into flow. Also, there seem to be individual differences so that some people prefer to be in control (that is, high skill, moderate challenge) to being in flow.

King: You said that web sites should be like a gourmet meal to enable flow.[25] Can you elaborate?

Csikszentmihalyi: What I meant is that like in a good meal, you should have varieties of tastes and textures, metaphorically speaking.

King: What do you think the key attributes would be of web sites that enable flow?

Csikszentmihalyi: The key attribute is that it should be very user-friendly and transparent at first, but one should immediately be able to find complexity in it, so as to find quickly the right level of opportunities for "action" that match one's skills. These "challenges" include the visual aspects as well as the content.[26]

Shopping Site Design

Hoffman, Novak, and Yung performed an additional survey on web shopping using a list of features that shoppers found important on the Internet. They found customer support to be very important for a "smooth" shopping experience. Speed plays a role in a compelling shopping experience, contributing significantly to ease of contact and variety.[27]

Variety and quality of information are important to consumers. Shoppers don't want cutting-edge technology, however. It just gets in the way of consumer goals.

Flow Can Be Measured

The researchers found that "the degree to which the online experience is compelling can be defined, measured, and related well to important marketing variables."[28] Marketers can use their flow model to discover the secrets of online success.

The Benefits of Flow Online

People who experience flow tend to be more playful,[29] exploratory,[30] and willing to try new things. They tend to stay longer, and return to web sites that facilitate flow. Hoffman and Novak found the following benefits of flow online:[31]

The bottom line is that people in flow are having fun, and truly enjoying themselves. Of course, you can have too much of a good thing. The authors warn that playful people in flow can take longer to complete tasks, although staying longer on your web site isn't necessarily a bad thing. People in flow can also become overinvolved in an activity.

Marketers know that engaged users tend to buy more products, so making your site flow can make a big difference to the bottom line. It is relatively easy to get users to come to your site, but getting them to stay is another matter.


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25. John Geirland, "Go With The Flow," Wired 4, no. 9 (1996): 160–161. Available from the Internet at http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.09/czik.html. Back

26. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, email to author, 30 August 2002. Back

27. Novak, Hoffman, and Yung, "Measuring the Customer Experience," 38. Back

28. Ibid., 22. Back

29. Jane Webster, Linda Trevino, and Lisa Ryan, "The Dimensionality and Correlates of Flow in Human Computer Interactions," Computers in Human Behavior 9, no. 4 (1993): 411–426. Flow means fun and playfulness, which increases use. Back

30. Jawaid A. Ghani and Satish P. Deshpande, "Task Characteristics and the Experience of Optimal Flow in Human-Computer Interaction," The Journal of Psychology 128, no. 4 (1994): 381–391. Back

31. Hoffman and Novak, "Marketing in Hypermedia Computer-Mediated Environments." Back

Created: February 5, 2003
Revised: February 21, 2003

URL: http://webreference.com/programming/optimize/speedup/chap2/4.html