Corporate Eye

Capturing the Cognitive Flow of User Engagement

The Internet is technically just an infinite spider web of computer connections, and the laptops, smartphones, and tablets we use to access this massive web are merely a complex weave of mechanical bits, pieces, and wires. While the Internet is a playground for complex machinery, this playground and these machines are orchestrated by live humans. And humans are, and always will be, driven by the principals of psychology.

Because psychological principles drive human behavior, the design of user-centered web applications is the surest route to the success of your corporate website. It all centers upon user engagement.

According to research scientists at Yahoo! and Microsoft, and other academic experts, user engagement can be defined as “…the quality of the user experience that emphasizes  the positive aspects of the interaction, and in particular the phenomena associated with being captivated by technology.”[1]

…being captivated by technology…

How can one captivate another with technology? While there are several elements to user engagement, the classic psychological concept of flow is a primary factor. [2]

Flow is defined as a psychological state in which the Internet user feels motivated, efficient, and happy. When in this state, an Internet user will become completely immersed in their activity, enjoying the absence of irrelevant  thoughts and perceptions. The concept of flow is broken into a cluster of factors:

  • Clear goals: Most likely the user will have clear goals when they are surfing the web. Is your website topic relevant to user expectations?
  • Immediate feedback: While you cannot control the speed of the user’s connection, you can control the efficiency of your navigation.
  • Personal skills well-suited to the challenge: Know your audience and be aware of what will motivate them to delve deeper into your website.
  • Merger of action and awareness & Concentration on the task at hand: Be sure to remove any unnecessary text or aesthetic distractions from each page of your website.
  • A sense of personal control: Once again this goes back to navigation; the user wants to feel in control of their navigation. So be sure to clean up any broken links and streamline your navigation system.
  • A loss of self-consciousness: This can somewhat circuitously be applied to any privacy concerns of the user.  They are more likely to feel relaxed and engaged if concerns of privacy are far from their mind. Be sure to display a privacy/security policy and any associated badges you may have.
  • An altered sense of time: If you meet all elements of a user-centric site, your visitors will be so immersed they will lose track of time – this is a crucial goal of flow.
  • Experience which becomes autotelic: This means internal curiosity – Incorporate interesting elements such as a resource page or share interesting and relevant research to satisfy the intrinsic curiosity of your users.

In summary, when designing your website, be sure that nothing is inhibiting or blocking the potential for user-flow. For those corporations in the fashion industry, flow is especially important, but it is important in other industries as well. [3]  Regardless of your industry, user-engagement is a universal staple of website design so make sure to cover all of your bases.

1 Towards a science of user engagement: Attfield, S., Kazai, G., Lalmas, M., Piwowarski, B.

2 The psychology of optimal experience: Csikszentmihalyi

3 Bringing virtual reality for commercial web sites: Bhatt, G.