The Concept of Flow: A Convergence of Psychological Immersion and Website Design
Flow as a psychological state and flow in relation to the way a website is designed align and shrewd marketers will design websites to create an engaging, immersive experience, thus facilitating psychological flow.
Csikszentmihalyi (1997) suggests that flow is an optimal experience, characterised by doing things without thinking; a sense of “time flies”; and an end result that is often satisfying enough to be an excuse for the journey. He posits flow is facilitated by undertaking an activity that sits within an ideal equilibrium of ease and the person’s skill level; in other words, the person’s skill level is congruent with the difficulty of the task, thus creating an immersive experience.
More recent research by Hoffman and Novak (2009) suggests that website users can indeed experience flow while utilising digital technology, whether it be goal-oriented browsing (such as looking for content or buying a product) or experiential (such as undirected web “surfing”).
In a real-world sense, marketers can augment the chance of flow by eliminating tangible barriers to flow such as difficult navigation, distractive graphics, unclear online value propositions, slow website loading, confusing or non-existent calls to action and incongruent marketing messages. They should also ensure that content and design is created to match segmented persona types. This will ensure that the design and content align with customer goals, is relevant and satisfies customer needs, all factors for flow proliferation (Aliberto, 2005).
“… online experience is a consumption event in and of itself … Web shopping today generates flow under only the most limited of conditions… those who experience flow seek, at a minimum, ease of use in Web shopping. It may be the case that for some consumers under some conditions a compelling online experience may offer an alternative to seeking the lowest price.” Hoffman and Novak (2009)
Therefore, I would postulate that these works support the argument that the two types of flow – the design of flow within a website and flow as an immersive state of mind – converge and actually complement each other, to the point they are one and the same. A website that is well designed with the goal to allow users to flow from one page to the next will be more likely to create a state of subconscious immersion, thus facilitating psychological flow. I believe this also precisely illustrates the importance of flow and user experience in website design.
Finally, in regards to seeking out a website that exhibits flow, this is impossible by definition as being in a state of flow means you are acting in your subconscious. However, next time you are browsing the web and you catch yourself checking the clock and saying “my how time flies,” you have just snapped out of an immersive website experience – you have just experienced flow.
Csikszentmihalyi (1997) http://myweb.stedwards.edu/michaelo/2349/paper1/ConceptOfFlow.pdf
Hoffman and Novak (2009) http://mail.tku.edu.tw/myday/teaching/992/SEC/S/992SEC_T3_Paper_20110513_Hoffman_Novak_2009_JIM.pdf