Gamification in design: How to segment individual tasks into an engaging user experience

People interact with dozens of user interfaces a day. How can designers segment individual tasks in a workflow to prevent monotony when working with computers?

Gamification in design: How to segment individual tasks into a engaging user experience

TechRepublic's James Sanders spoke with Oblong Industries John Underkoffler about how designers can segment individual tasks in a workflow to prevent monotony when working with computers. The following is an edited transcript of the interview.

James Sanders: In the last four decades, video games have been the playground of designers to experiment with new ways of interacting with specialized computers. Some of these were successful, like the Nintendo DS pioneering the two screen touch hybrid while others were unsuccessful, like using a heart rate monitor to manipulate the drop speed in Tetris. How should gamification be used to improve user experience and engagement?

John Underkoffler: It's unclear to me that gamification itself is the right direction. That is to say, do we really want to wire up the use of or Excel or something so that it looks and feels more like Tetris? It would be tricky to do it in an authentic and great way. Not impossible. So that's actually kind of fun to think about, but really the problem is wouldn't you end up distracting from the task at hand? I think any of us who have played a couple of hours of, I don't know, you choose, Ghost Recon, or something like that. And then get in a car to drive home from your friend's house immediately afterwards. No, the degree to which immersion in a kind of a virtual kinetic world can seep over maybe even dangerously into the real world.

I don't know that we want to further gamify individual experiences. My own view, and I'm pretty publicly on record here, is that it's the user interface design of games that we need to study and emulate and import into non-game experiences. So for example, let's just take the idea of zooming, video games. Let me take one further step back. I've just interrupted myself a second time to pull out one further level of detail, but I think it might be worth it.

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James Sanders: Well, think about the idea of segmenting a task into smaller, more digestible chunks. That's not a lot different from like a side quest and an RPG. So in that term of gamification, how can designers used that for real world activities?

John Underkoffler: I think that the, in terms of gamification, what we see if we kind of peel back the surface a little bit, unfold the Origami just a little bit, is that the opportunity is to think about the task and the UI that you wrap around the task and a slightly different way. I think that designers have non game software build very, very literal UIs. The interface is designed for the user, the pilot of the software, if you will, to get from point A to point B in the task. The destination from the point of outset as quickly as possible. Is that the same as saying as, or as effectively as possible? It's certainly isn't. And so if you think about how you might segment the task to your point, segment a task that's knowable in advance, of course, into meaningful chunks, into chunks, in fact that might have kind of higher cognitive meaning than the undifferentiated Mulligan stew of the task considered as a whole.

So if you actually get something out of pausing for breath along the way, then you could build an a more meaningful UI around those sub tasks and you'd have that same sense of gamification. What I don't think you want to do is feel like, "Oh, I just got 375 points for filling up this column in the spreadsheet." It doesn't need to be that literal a gamification, but the idea of sub tasks I think is exactly the right direction and there's something there that can be learned. And then just the entire apparatus of gaming UI is a second larger category. I mean, despite the... at the end of the day, we have to admit that most gaming controllers, the physical input devices are very, very primitive. You have one or two joysticks, a couple of buttons. Those have become standardized enough in layout over the last 15 years so that you're probably an expert. Even if you trained, you know, if you're jumping across from Nintendo to Sony, the Xbox or whatever else, that's fine.

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But with that effectively primitive blob of joysticks and buttons and a few other input modalities, game designers and therefore game users are able to undertake incredible feats of navigation, control, precision and so forth. And I think it's that that needs to be looked at and amplified out of, transduced, out of the gaming world, into the professional computing world. Why should, why should someone who's using a bit of business software, a BI or a data visualization package not feel that same sense of exhilaration that she feels when she's piloting a fanciful craft in a video game. Those should be, in terms of exhilaration, in terms of direct connect, cognitive connect between the user and the software, should be identical propositions. And I think we're just thinking the wrong way about what it means to build serious software. There's a real opportunity here and it's enormous.

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