Chapter 5. Playful

Find occasions for levity

I do believe design is a new form of art and poetry, but with the strange destiny of bringing a little bit of joy to people. In that sense, humor probably helps.


CHILDREN HAVE THE UNCANNY ABILITY TO TURN EVERYTHING INTO PLAY. First-time parents are often perplexed to find their children playing with the box that housed a toy, just as readily as the toy itself. The world of the imagination is simply more accessible and tangible to children, who are not yet hardened by the years of pattern recognition that cause adults to categorize and compartmentalize experiences based on clearly defined expectations.

This library of familiar experiences is often harnessed by interaction designers, who draw upon standard conventions and commonly understood icons to make a design more discoverable and usable. These established patterns make it easier for people to do new things, because they recognize the structure from past experiences. They can make new experiences feel intuitive, from cooking on a new stove to switching email programs or driving an unfamiliar rental car. But conforming to expectations can also make a design unremarkable, defined more by a lack of negatives than by anything unique or compelling.

Good design goes beyond removing pain points or utilizing standards. Purposefully defying expectations in a playful way can often lead to a better experience, snapping people out of their everyday routine to surprise and delight them ...

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