Functionality, Gamification, and Feedback Loops

A fantastic article on feedback loops at Wired gives a nice overview of what they are: “A feedback loop involves four distinct stages. First comes the data: A behavior must be measured, captured, and stored. This is the evidence stage. Second, the information must be relayed to the individual, not in the raw-data form in […]

A fantastic article on feedback loops at Wired gives a nice overview of what they are:

“A feedback loop involves four distinct stages. First comes the data: A behavior must be measured, captured, and stored. This is the evidence stage. Second, the information must be relayed to the individual, not in the raw-data form in which it was captured but in a context that makes it emotionally resonant. This is the relevance stage. But even compelling information is useless if we don’t know what to make of it, so we need a third stage: consequence. The information must illuminate one or more paths ahead. And finally, the fourth stage: action. There must be a clear moment when the individual can recalibrate a behavior, make a choice, and act. Then that action is measured, and the feedback loop can run once more, every action stimulating new behaviors that inch us closer to our goals.”

This description highlights the gigantic difference between visual design and interaction design. It also shows how much further most software could push interaction-wise. So much of software design in the last decade has been about functionality…merely being able to do something. But we soon realize that functionality is often not enough…you need to engage people and help them get better at what they’re doing. The principles from Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience apply here…successful people seek out and actively monitor feedback about what they’re doing. They want to get better. Building feedback loops into software only makes that more likely.

Also, a great explanation of why feedback loops work:

“So feedback loops work. Why? Why does putting our own data in front of us somehow compel us to act? In part, it’s that feedback taps into something core to the human experience, even to our biological origins. Like any organism, humans are self-regulating creatures, with a multitude of systems working to achieve homeostasis. Evolution itself, after all, is a feedback loop, albeit one so elongated as to be imperceptible by an individual. Feedback loops are how we learn, whether we call it trial and error or course correction. In so many areas of life, we succeed when we have some sense of where we stand and some evaluation of our progress. Indeed, we tend to crave this sort of information; it’s something we viscerally want to know, good or bad. As Stanford’s Bandura put it, “People are proactive, aspiring organisms.” Feedback taps into those aspirations.”

Design isn’t just about the functionality to create something…it’s about monitoring and managing those things as well. If I were teaching a course on design, I would make feedback loops a core part of the curriculum…they are extremely powerful way to explain things like system status, error messages, overall level of engagement, and the basics of UI design.

In addition, the article talks about how gamification can seem too much like a badge counter, quickly losing its meaning. I wonder if much of the value of gamification of software is less about having fun as it is the power of feedback loops.

Read the whole thing: Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops

Published: July 5th, 2011

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