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Chapter 2. Flow in Web Design

Imagine that you're doing your favorite activity—let's say, sailing. You're skimming along the waves, when suddenly the breeze freshens. You hike out to compensate, leaning back into the wind to keep the boat upright. A wave splashes your face. You shake your head and trim the main sheet for more speed. You are entirely focused on the movements of your body, the water rushing past, and keeping the boat right side up.

You're really flying now, just on the edge of control. You're so fully immersed in this activity, there's no room left in your awareness for distractions. Otherwise, you might catch a wave and capsize. You're having so much fun that you want this moment to last forever. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls these exceptional moments flow experiences.[1] Flow can occur in practically any activity, including browsing the web.

[1] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life (New York: Basic Books, 1997), 29.

This “optimal experience”[2] is “intrinsically enjoyable.”[3] Time seems to stand still, and we lose our sense of self. We feel playful and are willing to try (and presumably buy) new things. Although flow can occur anywhere, certain activities like rock climbing, performing surgery, chess, and sailing lend themselves to this optimal state of focused attention. Responsive, well-designed web sites can also induce flow in their users.

[2] Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Optimal Experience (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

[3] Gayle Privette and Charles M. Bundrick, “Measurement of Experience: Construct and Content Validity of the Experience Questionnaire,” Perceptual and Motor Skills 65 (1987): 315–332.


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