Fun in Interaction Design

People use the tools we design – sometimes every day.  Our job as designers is not only to get their goals and tasks completed as easily as possible, but to keep the user engaged and excited.  Here are some examples of designs that take the time to include interesting, funny, or or just plain awesome flourishes that go beyond the baseline requirements of interaction design.

KomodoMedia‘s foliage-o-meter ™. (Shown above)

I’ve followed Rogie King’s KomodoMedia for a while now, but my mind wasn’t blown until he launched the foliage-o-meter.  You drag it in either direction to change the amount of foliage shown around the site. It’s so pointless and innocuous, yet it’s exciting.  There are many blogs and portfolio sites that are pretty, professional, slick, etc, etc.  Even great webdesign tends to get old, and this little gem has restored some of my faith in my ability to be surprised at the internet.

Flickr’s ever changing greeting.

Flickr greets people who have logged in with a “hello” in a new language each time. This feature has nothing to do with photo sharing, but it improves the experience of spending time on the site day after day.

Gmail and iGoogle‘s themes.

Millions of users spend countless hours staring at and navigating through Gmail and iGoogle’s interfaces.  Themes allow people to customize the graphics to something more exciting.  Many of the themes change throughout the day based on time or even weather.  Although there are a few naysayers in the IxDA community, the general reaction on the web seems to be overwhelmingly positive.

Meowmi‘s cloud house.

Exploring Meowmi gives your inner child a minute to shine right through. As illustrators, they can get away with the overdose of cuteness, but the site has been made with an attention to detail and an attitude that refuses to take itself too seriously.

So what?

It’s standard practice to design with our user’s goals in mind. Too often, though, we tend to focus only on the immediate goals: Send an Email, Download a File, Do my Taxes.  Although we may produce usable and successful designs, we have ignored the user’s larger context.

They may be bored, tired, at work, grinding away at a long term deliverable.  They may be entering countless rows of data into a spreadsheet.  People love to have fun. Without sacrificing usability, let’s bring a little fun into our designs.

  • brandon applefield

    Fun and a little flashiness in design is what makes sites stand out among the rest, i love the flickr example.

    Nice post

  • Andrew Maier

    So very true. I think that the *human* part of human computer interaction is the most fun. We actually just did related article on this very topic over at

    Great list!

  • Dan Greenblatt

    Great collection of sites here, thanks for the pointers! I especially like the Komodo Media one. Very subtle and clever.

    I went on a bender a while ago trying to collect as many examples I could of this. A couple other ones I came up with were Picnik (online photo editing) which has a great startup sequence and Moo (photo printing services) which sends hilariously funny status emails.

    Screenshots and some more examples here:

    I think you really hit it on the head in that last paragraph. Interaction design is, at its core, catering to the needs of users, and the need to have fun is one that’s often sorely ignored. Of course, everyone’s got a different definition of fun, and what’s fun to someone may be offensive to others (i.e. a cute fatal error message in a mission critical application with a deadline bearing down on you) but, hey, you can’t please all the people all the time ;)

  • Loren

    @Andrew Maier
    Very nice article, thanks!

    @Dan Greenblatt
    Your collection is very good – many of your examples relate to use of informal, friendly, human language. It seems that interaction designers need to be good at everything, from appropriate visual design to writing solid copy.

    Oh, and the ability to avoid trying to please everybody all the time, I’m finding, makes for some of the best designers :)

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