Imagine that game, that got you so engrossed you lost track of time. Or reading that book or doing that thing you like which just makes time pass like a river, without interruptions. It was just you and the act of doing it, everything else was blurred out, pushed into the periphery, almost assimilating into the environment. That can be constructed, devised, baked into a product…or simply Designed. That’s what great design does, and it is so intrinsically powerful. Let me illustrate it from a different perspective.
There is a desktop computer at my house in India. On one end, it is me, in America with a MacBook Pro and on the other end, it is my parents, who are not very adept with tech and due to various network restrictions are not used to high bandwidth internet nor a reliable computer (Mac won’t work on the network). Heres what happened recently. I visited India and set my old desktop perfectly and worked with the network admin of the area to set up the desktop with the network so that things run properly, desktop and network are both reliable.
The desktop changed their lives.
Soon they can talk to me at will, look at their daughter play her newborn daughter. The desktop is easy to use, switch it on and it runs, the internet streams HD videos during the video calls. “The experience is very frictionless”, my dad says.
Concept of Flow & Great Design
Jeanne Nakamura and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, in their defining work, spoke about “Flow”. It is the state, that I mentioned earlier as the one wherein you lose track of time by doing something. They explain how the task is done is not an easy one, it requires skills but the difficulty is just right to accomplish along with several other nuances. The curious ones can find it here.
How does Joy fit in with Flow ?
Flow and Joy are synonymous. They are homogeneous. Experience of Flow delivers Joy and an aspect of Joy is Flow.
The congruence of Flow and Joy can be well attributed to Emotion. And in the words of legendary philosopher John Dewey:
“ Emotion is the moving and cementing force. It selects what is congruous and dyes what is selected with its color, thereby giving qualitative unity to materials externally disparate and dissimilar. It thus provides unity in and through the varied parts of an experience.” - John Dewey. Having and Experience in Art as experience.
The Macintosh Example
When the first Macintosh came out, it had one of the most intuitive UI of the time. Iconography and visual metaphors were introduced to computers for the first timel. They were easily analogized with everyday actions and objects. Like, trash can, on the computer it meant exactly what it meant in the real world. For people experiencing the visual interface for the first time, “it just worked”. The new users already had a mental model of how things worked in the real world, the user interface leveraged it.
But, if we viscerally observe the experience of such a user, we would see Joy. Lets imagine a clerk, in 1985, who after spending several years working with piles of paper and calculator, meets Macintosh. He could quickly pick up using the spreadsheet software on Macintosh with some assistance. And after learning it, using the device is a breeze for him. Now, everyday he sits on his computer, churns through his calculations and work is just so much faster. Looking back using calculator just didn’t make sense.
The experience is, as if, a woodcutter cutting wood for several years is introduced to a motorized saw. The joy he feels everyday is of a very visceral kind, the kind you see in kids when they play.
Golden Krishna, author of The Best Interface is No Interface, advocates the idea of #NoUI which he illustrated vividly in his SXSW speech last year. He talked about how a lot of companies design for delight and joy which get in the way. It got me thinking about joy. Around the same time the new book on Steve Jobs, Becoming Steve Jobs, has a very interesting chapter that demonstrated the reaction new users had to Macintosh.
The observations reached a tipping point of reflection when my parents reflected on theirs and commended me with “you changed our lives with this computer.” It led me to think my way through what, as a designer, I should be delivering to users in my work. What is the “joy” that everyone is talking about and what attributes of that joy should I encompass.
The above were my takeaways.