I want to extend the idea of playfulness as an underutilized concept in user experience and product design.
Let’s take a second to think back to the days when we were all just getting introduced to the world of computers, Windows 95:
Doesn’t that just look – not fun? Not playful?
I use Windows 95 as an archetype for the non-playful. Analyzing it, we can identify several elements that make this product particularly non-playful:
- Functionally oriented – the best software is going to do what you want it to, but it appears that Windows 95 developers were primarily concerned with what the software does not how it does, let alone how beautifully or how playfully it does so
- Boxy design – the design is regimented and recalls notions of standardization, functional orientation, and even autocracy: everything is laid out in ordered, neat boxes
- Straightforward – features and applications are included when they have a strict utilitarian purpose for the user, rarely as flourishes for the user to view
On the other hand, some software is simply a delight to use. Games can be addicting in this way, and hence we use the term playful.
Here’s one of my favorite recent examples of playfulness, Google Drive’s feature for simultaneous massive editing. It uses cute icons and names to identify people, like Anonymous Chupacabra:
Aren’t those icons just a joy? Doesn’t that name make you laugh?
What makes this software so playful? By analyzing the attributes, we can hopefully begin to incorporate playfulness in our software as well:
- Experience oriented – there may not have been a user specification to make the software fun or have memorable identifiers for distinct anonymous contributors, but instead of stick with ‘Anonymous A, Anonymous B,…’ or ‘User 1, User 2,…’ the team behind drive thought about the experience of having funny, identifiable anonymous contributors
- Modern design – the look of the images and the use of the latest design concepts, including flat design and simple conceptual design (see iOS 7, twitter redesign), makes the feature very appealing to the eye
- Funny – both the names and images are done with an attention to humor; one does not expect to think about chupacabras or axolotls after 12, but their appearance out of context makes them quite funny
So, I encourage all of us to be experience oriented, use modern design, and be funny. In our mockups, wireframes, and flows, we can think a little bit less about the functional requirements and more about the playful experience, taking after the definition of play itself:
- engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose.
Doing so, we can improve all of our software.
Note: this post was originally published to Medium and is included here for visitors of my personal website.