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05 August '14 | Debjyoti Paul

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30 July '14 | Debjyoti Paul

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What Game Designers Do That Interface Designers Don’t

Posted on: 09 June '11

On many occasions stakeholders ask designers to design experiences that are simple yet immersive and engaging for commercial Web applications. They leave it completely to the designers to think of ideas to achieve such designs. But, commercial Web application designers are always busy designing applications that are a function of

Over simplification of Web application design
Over simplification of Web application design

They make sure all the business rules are incorporated, the right system responses are in place, the right set and amount of information is presented so that the right decisions are taken and so on and so forth. I would like to add here that there is nothing grossly wrong with that approach. While the results are not always great designs, they are not bad either.

But there are traits of game designs that an enterprise application designer can experiment with and design experiences that are memorable and desirable for people who use them. Theoretically, game design is not all that different and designers from other fields are perfectly capable of doing much of what game designers do.

A gross oversimplification of game design (Stephen Anderson's way)
A gross oversimplification of game design (Stephen Anderson’s way)

Instant Gratification vs. Slow Response Time
In most commercial software interfaces response time management is completely overlooked. The rule is “faster is always better,” and Google has almost mastered it. Search results displayed are shown with how many milliseconds it took for Google to process the results. However, game designers don’t think likewise and they defy the concept of instant gratification by making good use of the response time. It is like one driving to a hill station on a vacation with friends and family where en route experiences are equally important as reaching the destination is. Slow response time also allows users to think of their next move.

Closure to Completion Effect
Gamers become more aggressive, thrilled, and impatient when they come very close to completion of a level, task, or an activity in a game. But game designers design these activities to be highly unpredictable and vulnerable, to take the gamers’ excitement to the peak (for example, a game of Jigsaw Puzzle or Sudoku at the verge of completion). Similarly, Web application designers can start thinking of ideas to make the last piece of a task or an activity more engaging and exciting.

Learn To Become More Efficient In Future
Gamers become more efficient as they play and eventually become experts at it. Game designers leave cues that gamers use as tricks and keys to reach the expert level. The vast majority of software user interfaces have no consideration for how users can be taught by experience with the system to improve their performance. It is about finding those hidden patterns in the way people interact and manipulate the system. It is an applied learning that a user gains and reuses in different conditions to get faster results.

Short-term Memory Management
People love gaming because it challenges their reflexes, thinking, intuition, and dedication as they progress to higher levels with increased amount of complexity. Short-term memory management is a great tool for game designers to increase or reduce the complexity of the game. Interface designers are trained not to rely on user’s short-term memory (for example, showing a piece of information and expecting the user to remember it to re-enter the same somewhere else in the system).

However, game designers use it quite often in the form of locations, maps, symbols, and passwords which the gamers need to remember to clear a level or to reach a place. For example, arcade games use word codes that are displayed when the level is completed. These codes are supposed to be remembered by the player to re-enter to reach that level directly from beginning else he or she will have to pass through all the previous levels to get there. Similarly, the famous Angry Birds game shows the cage structure once to the player and leaves it to the player’s imagination to strike in the right area.

Building Mystery
Game designers carefully design interactions that in a way expand the player’s mind and force him or her to think what’s happening. It is the mild confusion created with just enough contexts to consume the player’s cognition in subtle and compelling ways.

Enterprise Web application designers think of making interactions highly intuitive and transparent at all times. They think of giving surprises by making the application learn user patterns and then start intelligently predicting their next move and automate it.

Vinay Dixit

Vinay Dixit is a design practitioner and head of user experience practice at Mindtree. He likes to observe people, their activities, motivations, and their natural behavior to see how technology opportunities can be exploited for business innovation and solve problems at hand. He is passionate about design processes, human factors, internet technologies, mobile and sensory technologies, gaming, art, history, and travel. He learnt traits of visual communication design discipline at National Institute of Fashion Technology, Delhi and applied some of it during his long association with the Media and Publication industry. Today he works closely with business verticals such as travel and transportation, media, retail and manufacturing, to design smart and intelligent business solutions across various digital platforms. He holds a post graduate degree in Business Management from NMIMS Mumbai.

  • Tanuj

    It’s a very interesting topic you touched upon Vinit. With more and more smarter devices/platforms being brought into enterprise premises, it’d be imperative that the boundaries between these two domains blur faster than ever before.

    The increasing homogeneity of enterprises and gaming world require applications which are not only stable and efficient but engaging and intuitive at the same time.

    A few observations from the customer personnel I work with – He’s a dream corporate users’ profile for of iPad. tracks his meeting notes on Evernote as much as he uses his Outlook. He fancies Foursquare as much as he’d keep people informed about his whereabouts in different offices. Just an indicator of where the Enterprise market is headed. If not all of it, but definitely a growing segment of it.

    Great stuff!
    Keep posting….

    • Vinay Dixit

      Thanks you Anuj.

      I cannot agree more that the line between enterprise applications and games should blur. Most of the successful iPad applications that you will come across are designed as amalgamations of games and info-graphic interfaces and less as task-driven interfaces.

      Companies such as BBC, FLUD, Wired, and many more already have their iPad native application available on Apple’s App store beyond a successful web presence. And the reason is simply a different and playful experience capitalizing on iPad’s device capabilities.

      As you rightly mentioned – those days are over when people used to measure success of a design by number of clicks vs time take to complete a task/reach a page but it is the value of engaging yet meaningful experience a user gets out of the application
      The story you painted is not far away…its already knocking at our doors.

      • Bobs

        If you want to get read, this is how you slhuod write.

      • Ally

        Posts like this brgithen up my day. Thanks for taking the time.

    • Nelia

      At last, soeomne comes up with the “right” answer!

    • Keys

      Knowledge wants to be free, just like these atrciles!

  • Amit Varma

    Interesting perspective, Vinay! While I agree that games may have been *the* benchmark from a design standpoint so far, I’m not convinced if they need to be so as we go ahead. In my view, the concept & interpretation of *experience* has truly enlarged to encompass a much broader canvas. Also, with the multitude of channels opening up, the key will be to design experiences that are similar across channels. For a long time, design (& games were the culprit) came to mean rich, heavy graphics – but the good news is that we can clearly see that changing in the recent past. Simplicity and elegance are the virtues that probably matter most and the best designs clearly adhere to these virtues. It’ll be nice to hear your views on how/ what needs to be done to try and keep experiences consistent across channels – may not be easy but is definitely the most crying need!

    • Tish

      Haha, sholudn’t you be charging for that kind of knowledge?!

  • Titia

    I found just what I was neeedd, and it was entertaining!