Interfaces for Staying in the Flow


January 26, 2005


Benjamin B. Bederson


University of Maryland, College Park


The common notion of “staying in the flow” implies the ability to concentrate on a task, being immersed and engaged to the point where the perception of time slows. An artist, athlete or reader might not realize that half the day went by while working on something. And yet, most computer users would report that flow is something they rarely achieve.

Researchers have found that for people to stay in the flow, the task must be neither too difficult to discourage them, nor so easy that they become bored. A lack of interruption is also very important for staying in the flow. It has also been noted that flow is improved when users spend more time on the task domain, and less time on the interface domain (such as organizing, navigating, etc.)

In this talk, I will discuss how flow relates to user interfaces. By looking at interruptions, perceived time duration, and interface organization, I will show how interfaces can be designed to increase flow. To demonstrate these concepts, I will show a range of interfaces our lab has developed that we believe helps users to stay in the flow.


Benjamin B. Bederson

Benjamin B. Bederson is an Associate Professor of Computer Science and director of the Human-Computer Interaction Lab at the Institute for Advanced Computer Studies at the University of Maryland, College Park. His work is on information visualization, interaction strategies, and digital libraries.