Creating UX Engagement: Through Interlaced Workflows

We often think about the “critical path” for users when designing workflows. This is very important as it helps us understand how we want the user to progress through the application. Doing this helps give the application a defined path of progression.

However, it is a mistake to end there. Humans experiment and discover, that is how we learn and stay engaged. Most video gamers know the phrase “a game on-rails” described on giantbomb.com as:

A feature of video games in which the manner that the player travels is pre-determined on a line, as if on rails.

This was a common strategy for early video games because it let the developers simulate larger experiences and keep technology limitations in mind. In recent years, however, gamers have been demanding more engagement and freedom in the games they play. This is leading to new games with open worlds that let the players discover the game on their terms versus going through a pre-defined path.

Most applications have objectives similar to video games. Users want to accomplish some of these objectives quickly with little effort, these are your critical path workflows. The more streamlined you can make these workflows the better. However, there are other workflows that are not critical paths. These could be a link to more information on a specific element or applying personalization setting to the user’s specific preferences.

These workflows are just as important as the critical path as it gives depth to an application. It also gives the user freedom to use the application in a way that fits their mental model. Consider for a moment how you surf the web, you might pull up Twitter and discover a tweet on a new concept you then follow that link, finding yourself at another link that drives you in a different direction. The web by its very name is a network of links and actions that reward discovery.

The best way to create this in an application is to identify all the “objects” in your application that your users interact with. An object can be anything, a person, a post, a social interaction, or a truck. A good rule of thumb is: If it is something you make a list of in your application, it is an object.

The next step is to identify all the data associated with these objects. For example, if one of our objects is people, then data associated with each person might be name, title, contact information, bio, and what truck they own. Do this for each object you have in your application.

Finally look for connections between your objects and their data. These connections are your chance to build discovery into your application. When on a page giving details of a person consider listing out what truck is associated with that person. Let the user then click on the truck to the view details on it.

These interactions can get very complex quickly because they follow a factorial growth pattern. Have as few as 8 objects with connections to each other and you have 40,320 combinations. This is important to keep in mind when building connections in your application. As it can quickly seem like you’re getting over your head when managing the connections between objects.

This is where your critical path comes back into play. Focus on the connections that lead back to your critical path so that your application allows deviations but they eventually lead back to the critical path you’re trying to guide your users down.

In conclusion, users need to feel like they are in control of your application, not the other way around. One way of accomplishing this is to build discovery into your application by looking for connections between objects that lead back to your critical path.

Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on March 6, 2017.

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