1. Focus Enabling Design Distilled

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    Interface elements either help the user experience, or hurt it. A redesign should consider possible features and choose a minimal set justified by essential use-cases. — Focus Enabling Design[1]

    Where the previous post was a narrative, this is a minimal summary and step-by-step.


    Every interface element of a focus enabling design helps the user do one of these:

    • stay focused:
      • do a quick action
      • add to current activity
    • refocus on an
      • emergency
      • a higher priority activity

    and must avoid both of these:

    • switching among similar priority activities
    • refocusing on a lower priority activity

    Question Every Interface Element

    When (re)designing for focus, start with questioning every interface element.

    Does this interface element encourage focus?

    There are two important aspects of focus:

    • staying focused on an activity in a productive state of flow - focusing on one cognitive task at a time until completed is more productive than switching back and forth
    • having the right focus - if there's an emergency or a higher priority activity, it's more important to switch to it

    There are two ways an interface element can help a user stay focused:

    1. do a quick action - does the element allow the user to quickly collect or handle something and return to the current activity without breaking flow?
    2. add to current activity - does the element help the user with their current activity?

    There are also two exceptions where encouraging the user to change focus is worth the cost of context switching:

    1. emergency - does the element notify/alert the user of an emergency and/or allow them to take action on it?
    2. a higher priority activity - does the element remind the user of another existing higher priority activity, or encourage starting a new higher priority activity?

    If an interface element does one of those above four, keep it.

    Or does this interface element distract the user?

    There are also two ways that interface elements typically distract users, specifically by encouraging them to:

    • switch among similar or lower priority activities - thereby suffering from context switching time and mental fatigue costs, hurting overall productivity
    • refocus on a lower priority activity - anything that encourages you to switch your attention to a lower priority activity (whether existing or new) is hurting your sense of will. It's a priority inversion.

    If an interface element encourages either of those, it is a source of distraction. Drop it.

    Try that out and let me know how it works for you.