Posted by: Laura Phillips Garner | January 30, 2010

Go With the Flow

Just like this cute sea otter takes pleasure from being in the water, Web site users want engaging, enjoyable experiences that allows them to go with the flow.

Have you ever experienced a Web site that was so smooth that you lost all sense of self and time? It’s like the site is a tour guide taking you on an engaging trip, suggesting many possible itineraries for your destination with plenty of fun and engaging activities along the way.

That’s called flow. Designers of successful Web sites strive to put their users in that frame of mind.

Why is flow important to marketers? Research shows that Web site users in flow states are more likely to have a positive attitude towards the sites they are viewing and are better able to process the presented information. Thus, a consumer in a flow state is more likely to accept a product, which could lead to a greater intention to buy.

Jim Ramsey, the lead designer for Six Apart’s Movable Type, outlines four rules for designing for flow that makes even the most complex site seem simple to use:

1. Set a clear main goal and smaller incremental goals for users so they know where they are going and the steps it will take to get there. Explain the purpose of the site in simple, down-to-earth language and give realistic examples so users can figure out how to use the site to achieve their goals.

2. Provide mechanisms for immediate feedback. Users want to know they are making progress in achieving the goals they have set for the site. Progress bars and preview screens go a long way in keeping users engaged.

3. Make sure the site works as efficiently as possible. Users who experience flow want to work quickly and expect a responsive site.

4. Create opportunities for discovery that keep users busy. Content and features relevant to the site’s target audience put in the context in which they are most likely to try them will help stop boredom, especially for familiar users.

Web designers who produce flow experiences empathize with new and experienced users and exercise intellectual and emotional subtlety to tell stories that create powerful psychological experiences.

They give their users reasons to go with the flow.

–Laura Phillips Garner


  1. Love the article. I will give to my boss as she redesigns our travel website. We have a lot of varying types of users and I think this will come in handy as she’s trying to determine content. Thanks!

    • You’re welcome, Vicky. I’m glad you found it helpful. You might point your boss to the A List Apart Web site as their are many articles about Web site design available.


  2. This is a great post. The user experience between a site that flows (by the author’s definition) and one that doesn’t makes all the difference in how I feel after visiting it.

    • I agree, Mark. Some sites are just so hard to use or so boring that I leave. If it’s not enjoyable, why bother. I don’t know about you, but there still are plenty of ways to get information. I also am one of those people who likes an aesthetically pleasing site. If the site is clunky, and I don’t know anything about the company, I might think the company is clunky unless I found out otherwise. Thanks for the comment.


  3. Poorly designed websites are very frustrating. Flow is an excellent term for the goal a website designer is striving for. I’ll be sure to use these guidelines in my future projects.

    • Great, Kevin. There are lots of good articles about Web site design on the A List Apart Web site. Laura

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