Gamification

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Gamification

Gamification. Even my spellcheck tells me that the word is alien. That may be because the everyman will respond to you with a quizzical look on his face if you tell him that gamification drives some of the most successful UXs (user experiences) on the web. You'd be telling the truth, but that doesn't make the premise any clearer - and clarity can often be the tipping point for the client. When the owner of a website is requesting gamification in their UX, you're in a good spot as a developer.

To this day, I am the only big Top Gear fan in the office. There was a particular episode some years back that housed a scene so relevant to this discussion that I couldn't help but bring it up. Richard Hammond was reviewing a cheap and fundamentally boring sedan, and in the usual fashion was struggling to come up with much of anything to say about it. He would come to realize that turning the car stereo off made a series of lights dart across the dashboard, and declared this to be the best feature of the entire vehicle. It may sound like a critic simply looking for something above the mundane, but the reality was that the car could start, drive, and make turns. It was capable of everything that a car needed to be, but the most memorable and arguably satisfying part of the experience was one developed simply to excite and reward.

The web is close to reaching that level of familiarity that cars have had for ages. If you know how to drive, it really doesn't matter which car you get into. You know where the pedals are, and how the steering wheel works. On a modern website, you know where to find content, how links should direct you, and how to navigate menus. In a sense, your website is your car. If it does everything that it needs to do, and does it well, it goes somewhat unnoticed. So how can you leverage something like "fun" to direct your users to where you want them to go? The stereo in the story above was seemingly irrelevant, a bit of fun that provided a distraction. Despite this, it's what Richard ends up focusing on more than anything else. Why not use that idea to direct your own audience?

The theory of games is that players will pursue the finish line if the journey is rewarding and pleasant. Gamification encapsulates that experience and uses it to drive results. Make the journey a stimulating one, and your users are more likely to seek out the end of that road (wherever you want them to be). Right now, users are online for a number of reasons: social, education, shopping, entertainment, the list goes on! Though these purposes vary, the one thing they have in common is that users must interact with a UI (user interface) to achieve gratification. As a business or website owner, you want as many users using your website for as long as possible. That goal comes with two expectations: that your UI is simple/intuitive, and that it's satisfying.

Gamification is a good way to tackle the 'satisfying' aspect of your UI. If an experience is fun and rewarding, users will stay engaged and complete navigational tasks by nature. These rewards can take the form of slick animations, illustrations, custom messages, progression achievements and so much more. Higher forms of gamification even take on progress bars, badges (community forums are a good example), and leaderboards - all of which encourage return traffic and time investments before you even begin writing content! That incentive to explore and interact can (and will, if executed well) make the process of navigating any website feel natural, and therefore invisible, which affords your site some complexities that might have been impractical otherwise.

As today's websites are becoming more and more standardized (and therefore stable) we've reached a point where it's safe to assume that users are familiar with well-made, standardized designs and how to navigate them. It's a great time to be designing websites, because that familiarity has positioned us to experiment with new experiences, progression routes, and technologies. The challenge in designing them is beginning, at last, to move away from functionality and towards fun.

What are your thoughts on gamification and effective UX design? Leave your comments in the section below, and check us out on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+ for more! You can also fill out the subscription field below to receive digital design and development tips, news, and infographics, right to your inbox!