The experience of playful IAs

Solving a Rubik's Cube

It’s time for a short update on my think­ing about Play­ful IAs (the top­ic of my Euro IA Sum­mit talk). One of the under-served aspects so far is the actu­al user expe­ri­ence of an archi­tec­ture that is playful.

Bri­an Sut­ton-Smith describes a mod­el describ­ing the ways in which games are expe­ri­enced in his book Toys as Cul­ture. I first came across this book in (not sur­pris­ing­ly) Rules of Play. He lists five aspects:

  1. Visu­al scanning
  2. Audi­to­ry discrimination
  3. Motor respons­es
  4. Con­cen­tra­tion
  5. Per­cep­tu­al pat­terns of learning

Of most impor­tance to my sub­ject is the 5th one. 

Game design, like the design of emer­gent IAs is a 2nd order design prob­lem. You can only shape the user’s expe­ri­ence indi­rect­ly. One of the most impor­tant sources of plea­sure for the user is the way you offer feed­back on the ways he or she has explored and dis­cov­ered the infor­ma­tion space. 

Obvi­ous­ly, I’m not say­ing you should make the use of your ser­vice delib­er­ate­ly hard. How­ev­er, what I am say­ing is that if you’re inter­est­ed in offer­ing a play­ful expe­ri­ence on the lev­el of IA, then Sut­ton-Smith’s per­cep­tu­al pat­terns of learn­ing is the best suit­ed expe­ri­en­tial dimension.

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Kars Alfrink

Kars is a designer, researcher and educator focused on emerging technologies, social progress and the built environment.

2 thoughts on “The experience of playful IAs”

  1. Sim­ply put, the con­cept of “rewards” is quite bla­tant­ly not present in most com­mon web UX designs. Many design­ers think that incor­po­rat­ing play­ful­ness in their design is not pro­fes­sion­al or not want­ed by the user because the user is attempt­ing to com­plete some “seri­ous work”. But even reward­ing intrin­si­cal­ly, caus­ing sub­con­scious, pos­i­tive respons­es in the sense of “I’m enjoy­ing this and would like to con­tin­ue using this soft­ware” has a ben­e­fi­cial effect. Kathy Sier­ra coined a great way of express­ing this: the user needs to feel like he or she is “kick­ing ass”. And you can only feel like you’re kick­ing ass if there’s some kind of bar­ri­er that you feel like you’re over­com­ing through your actions. So an infor­ma­tion sys­tem should be designed to present that, even if it’s an illusion.

  2. So far, I have been unsure if I should include stuff on flow and Sier­ra’s kick ass curve in the mix. But you’re right that a large part of the enjoy­ment and plea­sure in games comes from a feel­ing of increas­ing mas­tery. For that to occur, there needs to be a bal­ance between the chal­lenges offered and the skill of the user. 

    I want to steer clear of rec­om­mend­ing to make your func­tion­al app more chal­leng­ing than it needs to be for the sake of a more ‘game-like’ feel. I think I do need to touch upon the sub­ject of flow and what makes games plea­sur­able some more. 

    I’m cir­cling this notion of doing a lot more with feed­back. Basi­cal­ly I think we should­n’t be fid­dling too much with the input side of things but on the out­put side there’s a lot to be gained. Unob­tru­sive­ly offer­ing feed­back on a num­ber of met­rics that allow the user to come up with his own goals. In that light, I think I’ll need to recon­sid­er my ear­li­er com­ments on Linked­In’s pro­file com­plete­ness bar…

    Thanks again for the valu­able com­ments. Keep ’em coming!

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