We want fun

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The joy of playful user experiences

Harry Llufrio, Creative Director & Partner, Hong Kong

Think of the last experience you had that allowed you to complete a daily task, and at the same time, was fun and enjoyable to use. And when the fun kicked in, did you expect it, or was it a surprise, something you discovered along the way?

There was a time when it was only gamers who benefited from these types of user experiences, but it’s been picked up by more and more brands and manufacturers to create more playful experiences across multiple digital touchpoints – experiences that are easy to navigate, almost human, have a story to tell and most importantly, are fun!

This is not simply a matter of ‘gamifying’ experiences, where brands apply gameplay elements (such as point scoring or rewards) to utility-focused activities. It is about making an experience playful for users, taking ordinary or dull tasks and sprinkling a bit of magic on them, making them pleasurable.

As a guide, the Playful Experiences framework categorises playful experiences (no surprise there) based on theoretical work on pleasurable experiences, game experiences, emotions, and elements of play. The final categories – which range from ‘discovery’ to ‘sensation’, and ‘humour’ to ‘fellowship’ – can help us focus on a theme to craft experiences around. Essentially, the value offering of your brand’s playful experience.

With that in mind, here are some playful experiences that work from some gameplay principles.

Theme it

You can’t get much dryer than this – a VPN service. Well, probably not the content you can access through it, but certainly the utility tool itself – subscribing then simply switching it on and off as and when you need it. One wonders how you could possibly turn such a dull utility into something playful. Well, Tunnel Bear has done just that. They have themed their service around a fictitious bear who helps you browse privately, hiding your IP address and ‘tunneling’ you around censorship and blocked sites to other countries, zapping trackers on the way.

Yep, probably all sounds familiar, but the bear gets involved in the experience along the way. Let’s take pricing. If you saw just the wireframes of any price list there would be three options to choose. Same here, but it’s how the price plans are positioned within the theme – Little bear (free), Giant bear (medium) and Grizzly bear (max).

And it doesn’t stop there. When using the service, the feedback is themed as well: “Rawwww!!!! You are now browsing in the United Kingdom.” When you’ve lost connection you get “No bear glove = Risky internet love.” What has always been a dull, sensible piece of feedback becomes playful, attracting you to the brand further.

Make it real

Messaging – another experience we often consider fully defined and with little room for evolution. It’s an experience where all fun comes from user interactions with one another, exchanging emojis or text messages. You could say there’s not much one could do to make it more playful. Not true. And one platform that has proved this is Slack – bringing a conventional messaging platform, originally intended for project teams to collaborate on, into a different dimension of communication and pleasure. For example, loading messages. What is normally a dry message telling users that the experience is loading uses surprising messages like “Remember to get up and stretch once in a while”, or “Each day will be better than the last. This one especially.” The fun doesn’t stop there, you can personalize this message so that your teammates can see it, such as “Work harder” or “Did you know [insert co-worker’s name here] sometimes isn’t wearing underwear in the office?” Surprises in a social space can be fun and embarrassing.

Give it a sense of humour

We are seeing some experiences develop into something that is more intelligent and at times human – artificial intelligence. Now with intelligence we get pretty boring results most of the time. And mostly that’s good. After all, we’re mostly after short answers to first world problems quickly. “Where’s the nearest place to buy a flat white” – that sort of thing. But what if the AI experience actually had a bit of humour mixed in, just to lighten the experience up and throw in the odd surprise. Fortunately we have just that with Siri and it only seems to be getting better. Siri is quite simply a voice recognition search tool. ‘She’ helps you find stuff. And if you really want to test her with some very human questions, the response can be quite amusing. For example, ask her “What should I wear for Halloween?” and she’ll reply with “Just be yourself, pumpkin.” Or “When is the world going to end?” – Siri comes back with “As long as you keep me charged we should be just fine.” And finally tell her “Roll a die,” and Siri says “Ok…three.” You get the picture. The experience – sorry, Siri – has a mind of her own and some humour there.

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There’ll always be a need to have utilities and tools, whether they are for a service, for the daily task of messaging teammates, or searching for something. You may have come to the conclusion that they are pretty well defined with a pattern of their own. But clearly what is working well out there are the experiences that are a little more like James Brown – they have a soul. They have personality, a life of their own. They are fun to use, turning the mundane into something that is pleasurable and more desirable for the consumer.

Just remember, the web can be a cold place. Try injecting some fun into your brand’s everyday interactions.

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