Tools & Toys

I had the amazing honor of being part of the 2014 World Usability Day - Puget Sound Event.  All presentations were insightful, interesting, and most of all 'engaging'. I meet dozens of fantastic people and learned so much. Thank you to Mike Berg everyone who put on the event. See #PSWUD on Twitter for photos and quotes. A brief synopsis of my talk is below. 

Making Tools Feel Like Toys

Why work when you can play? Let’s take usability beyond form and function. Let’s make it more than simple. Let’s make tools that feel like toys.

My obsession with this topic began a year or so ago. I started reading about Flow and realized that I was addicted to the lovely chemical cocktail that my brain produced when experiencing Flow. Then I had the opportunity to work with Microsoft Game Studios on a co-discovery study looking at how expert and novice users engaged with the game and with each other. Our team started with question the question "What does the experienced user do to teach the novice the game?’ This study ended up at this year’s E3 conference.

I have come to understand that engagement is more than an encounter. Engagement is about connecting people and ideas in a way that delights, builds and grows. By studying how people play, we can better understand how to balancing learning and achievement to achieve engagement and Flow.

Simply put Flow is play, but more than that its perfection in play, its the optimal state of engagement. Not only can engagement optimize your brain function, it can also make you healthier.


In the end engagement isn't just about the user. It's about you. Before you can try to engage someone else. You have to engage. You are part of one of the most exciting, interesting, and multi-faceted fields out there. You have the power to make life not only easier, but you have the power to make life worth living for literally millions of people. If you can see how what you are doing fits into the the epic game of life for everyone on this planet, then maybe you might just find your way to flow.


Why should you make tools more like toys? This is why. If your users are given the choice to work or to play. Which do you think they’ll pick?

Reading List

Here is a list of resources and reading related to my presentation. (By no means complete...just the ones I saved.)

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Creativity: The Psychology of Discovery and Invention by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi