Designing for flow at A List Apart

by Spencer Critchley

The influence of Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi's thinking on flow continues to spread. Partly, no doubt, because learning to say his name ("Me-high Chick-sent-me-high") is a flow experience in itself: just the right amount of challenge, and a satisfying experience once it's accomplished.

I joined a then-growing list of writers on the topic in late 2004, relating an effort at Project BarBQ to apply the principles of flow to musical instrument design, and since then have returned to it now and then, including via the still-in-beta Flow Awards.

Now comes Jim Ramsey, lead designer of Movable Type blogging software, applying flow-oriented thinking to website design (and by extension many forms of design), in a useful and thought-provoking post at A List Apart.

Ramsey identifies 4 principles:


  1. Set clear goals

  2. Provide immediate feedback

  3. Maximize efficiency

  4. Allow for discovery



One example, under the heading "Maximize efficiency":

Google Reader has several features that make it feel fast and effortless. Perhaps the best example is the “endless scroll.” It eliminates the need for pagination by fetching new articles as you scroll down the page so that you can read all the articles in a tag or feed without ever clicking to go to a new page. The user never has to disrupt their reading by clicking a link to the next page.

Another way that Google Reader ensures efficiency is through the email feature which, when clicked, appears directly below the article and allows you to send a story to a friend without losing your place. Google avoids causing a disruption in flow by reducing the mental cost of taking an action, thereby promoting more engaged use of the site.