Playful UIs


User interface design can be both science and art. There is a distinct science to improving efficiency and ensuring users complete tasks with the minimum number of interactions. However, there is also a subtle craft to connecting with users on an emotional level, adding a form of entertainment and delight to common actions.

A recent exploration of the Nintendo DSi (as part of the research for MEX Pathway #2 on driving multiple screens from a single device) led to the discovery of a different and playful approach to app store downloads. The video below (apologies for the amateur film quality – it was shot on a Nokia N8 in low light) shows how Nintendo transforms a potentially boring and slow waiting period into a pleasing interaction.

The UI employs familiar characters (in this case Mario and friends), non-repetitive animation and sound to create the playfulness. The sound is particularly important in this instance and features extensively throughout the DSi’s interface – even basic actions like navigating the menu are accompanied by a sound track.

The audible experience had a transformative effect. Returning to my mobile phone, I found the silence very loud.

In addition, the visual language of fantasy characters bring the pieces of the application to you and packing it up as a gift further enhances the sense you are acquiring something of value.

I’d love to hear from readers with other examples of where playfulness plays a significant role in digital UIs (email, Twitter or add a comment on the blog).


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