Journey–Based Interfaces

Interaction with an app can feel like a chore or it can provide a fun and immersive experience — it’s up to us.

With streams of information arriving from every direction, we feel we need to keep getting more and more efficient. Increasing productivity seems to be the only solution. Otherwise, how will we get everything done and still have time for a life?

No surprise that the way we design starts to reflect that. Even the entertainment apps fall into that pattern. The ones that above all promote a lean-back experience.

Why using an app can feel like a chore

When we design interfaces we have to carefully consider what information to show. It’s especially important when we deal with media content. Due to our choices, interaction with an app can add stress to our lives (and even trigger procrastination).

Information we see affects our decisions

When I open a reading app I want to find something I’ll enjoy. I check my library and then I notice this one additional piece of information — percents.

Maybe I should finish something instead?

Practicality starts creeping in. Suddenly I find myself considering how much time I have and which book would be the most optimal choice. But it shouldn’t be about efficiency. My library shouldn’t feel like a todo list.

It’s the Anchoring Effect in action — we see one of those values and start to evaluate other options in relation to that.

You might argue it’s a small detail, but it reflects the trend. Available information affects the way we think and make decisions. We use that knowledge to push people into being more productive hoping it will make them stay.

Focusing on progress puts pressure on people

In reality pressuring people like that adds stress to their lives. Badges are a common way of pushing people to be up-to-date. Apps use them to track podcasts, tv shows, and even comic books. Of course people want to know where they are, but putting this information up-front suggests those activities are all about the finish.

Badges are used in all kinds of entertainment apps.

In the above scenarios badges create an unnecessary friction. Showing them just adds to our stress. The higher the numbers are, the more we feel behind.

Overcast cleverly explains why the icon badge is turned-off by default.

When we get it right

The best experiences happen when we stop focusing on the completion — it’s when we get lost in our task, unaware of how much time has passed. In life, by becoming journey–based we start to appreciate more everything we experience. This is also true for interfaces.

Experiencing the state of flow can be the design equivalent of living in the moment.

Journey–based interfaces

Netflix is particularly good at this. With its engaging experience you just want to get lost in the app. It’s not rushing you to finish. My List is far from a to–do list, it’s a place where I can always find something good to watch.

Netflix helps you follow through with your decision by playing the video in the background.

Once you select something, the app instantly plays it in the background. After a moment UI disappears leaving you in the playback mode. That kind of guidance encourages you to sit back and watch. You don’t have to wonder if that was the best choice.

It’s all about immersion. One way to achieve it is by making your app feel comfortable. Unread is a perfect example of that. It deals with the visual clutter, bringing up the only thing that matters — the articles. It invites you to slow down. Revise your reading habits and enjoy a moment of focus.

Unread creates a distraction free experience.

Even though its interface is completely custom, it feels as if you’ve always used it. The navigation is gesture-based, which means there is nothing to distract you from the content.

It’s not as hard as it might seem. It can be something as small as hiding the status bar at the right moment. Safari Queue does that when you open a book on the iPad. I couldn’t imagine a more subtle way of telling “don’t worry about time”.

Simplify your app

We use the productivity–based techniques to make sure people will return to our app. But entertainment apps can achieve the same result by reducing the friction instead. The pleasure of using our app could be enough to draw people in.

  • Find a balance between informing and rushing. Making people feel like they can relax using an app in such a high-paced world makes a difference.
Brighter backgrounds instead of badges provide all information you need at this stage.
  • Aim for a distraction–free experience. Support focus by bringing up the relevant content. Secondary information shouldn’t distract us from our goals.
Dimming other content steers attention, giving people less information to take at once.
  • Prioritise. Showing everything right away is easy. Only by giving people what they need, exactly when they need it we can ensure them we understand their needs.

Our interfaces should strive for a healthy balance between journey and destination. Putting too much emphasis on the done–state often takes away the pleasure of getting there. Just as with life, becoming more journey–based might allow people to slow down and enjoy the moment.

Because, after all, not everything should be about the destination.

UX Designer. Passionate about technology and the way it impacts our lives.

UX Designer. Passionate about technology and the way it impacts our lives.