Flow over feature

The last year or so, I have been obsessing over what I call ‘flow over feature’. Its is the maybe somewhat obvious idea, that you can not think of individual features or products in isolation, you have to think about how you solve problems in the context of the users ‘flow’. Now while that thinking is somewhat already embedded into the notion of user cases, I find that use cases themselves are often too specific and overlook emotional flow-based-insights that are important. We focus too much about solving the specific problem, rather than understand the mental space the user is in – and thus we might solve the problem but the experience is not fluid. Let me give you an example. The other day, I stayed at the W hotel in San Francisco. As I was stepping into the shower I noticed that the bath mat towel used when stepping out on the floor after showing was rolled instead of folded. This meant that I could tap it with my foot just before stepping into the shower instead of bending down and un-folding it. I then turned on the shower and noticed that the shower head had been pointed towards the wall, making the first bit of cold water that is always in the pipes go onto the wall instead of me. Finally, as I went out of the shower, I found the bathrobe next to the shower with the string tied in a way so I could just pull the string and the bathrobe would open instead of having to untie the knot. Future more the string was secured to the side of the bathrobe so it didnt fall down on the floor. Overall the W hotel had managed to identify my user flow and optimize each elements of the features instead of just seeing them as independent ones. The W have realized that a user is in a flow when using the bathroom features – making my experience much better as the features was adaptive to the flow.

I think when we develop sites and products, we often forget to fully understand the physical or mental flow properly of a user, e.g. where was the mouse pointed at last, what are a user  thinking about as they use a feature  or do they hit a page from the side door (e.g. google) or our frontdoor of our site. In order to make successful products, we need to increase this understanding – so we can wrap our technology more invisible around human behavior.


  1. Commercial Mats
    September 21, 2009 at 8:20 pm — Reply


  2. Alexander Ainslie (@AAinslie)
    September 28, 2009 at 2:14 pm — Reply

    Henrik: Interesting post and observation. You may find the following book of value to further your thinking in this regard: #Invisible_Engines: How Software Platforms Drive #Innovation & Transform #Industries http://bit.ly/39vBjK Additionally, you may find the concepts of VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) as put forth by Doc Searls relevant to this subject. See: http://bit.ly/ProjectVRMVRM, in my opinion, is an important evolutionary paradigm and it is going to play an increasing role in the transformation of most established value chains. We are entering what I like to call the #Data_Decade where more power will be “claimed” and harnessed further down the value chain by people. “More Power To The People” :-))http://www.twitter.com/aainslie

  3. duncanmalcolm
    January 25, 2010 at 1:58 pm — Reply

    Good post, I was at a conference recently and the idea of moving from VCR to TiVo was explained in how VCRs were not designed with the users flow in mind and how TiVo was much better fit. I think something else that is important is preparing the user for the flow to give them context. In the hotel when you went into your room you saw what you expected from the brochure and impression in the reception.

  4. Grammar Jerk
    January 26, 2010 at 9:08 am — Reply

    Off topic here, but I really had a hard time reading your article because of this mistake you constantly make: “to” instead of “too”.Your post was actually painful to read to me, sadly.Please read this article: http://languagerules.wordpress.com/2006/09/07/t…Regards

  5. werdelin
    January 26, 2010 at 9:25 am — Reply

    Hi Alexander, thanks for the book reference. Its now on my kindle :)

  6. Alexander Ainslie (@AAinslie)
    January 26, 2010 at 10:24 am — Reply

    You are welcome. VRM is starting to pick up some steam the past 90 days. Combined with new universal identity paradigms (and I am not referring to Facebook Connect et al), 2010 should yield a more empowered consumer.Interesting isn't it how Google had to buy a $700+ million backdoor via AdMob as proxy into Apple's “Invisible Engine”?As for “flow”, you may enjoy following Jason Putorti (@novaurora), the fmr. Lead Designer of MintHere are some of my tweets from yesterday relating to him:How Mint.com Wonhttp://twitter.com/AAinslie/status/8195616842Designing for Emotion: The @mint wayhttp://twitter.com/AAinslie/status/8195613213You may also find this of value:Mental Models: Support Intentions, Not Existing Workflows (by the brilliant @IndiYoung)http://twitter.com/AAinslie/status/8188147436You are welcome to follow me at @AAinslie ;)

  7. vendrtv
    January 27, 2010 at 8:17 am — Reply

    Fantastic post my friend!

  8. vendrtv
    January 27, 2010 at 2:17 pm — Reply

    Fantastic post my friend!

  9. Olli Savolainen
    February 2, 2010 at 3:48 pm — Reply

    Hi,I am late for this, but I loved your story and would like to use it in my presentation at http://www.imoot.org online conference. Permission to quote?Thanks!

  10. werdelin
    February 2, 2010 at 3:51 pm — Reply

    Hey grammar Jerk. I have not started to use wordy.com to make your life a bit better.

  11. werdelin
    February 2, 2010 at 4:13 pm — Reply

    Hey Olli, go for it.

  12. Spelling Jerk
    May 9, 2010 at 4:30 pm — Reply

    Huh?You have *not* or you have *now* started to use wordy.com…..?

  13. werdelin
    May 9, 2010 at 5:00 pm — Reply

    he he. maybe I should use then for my comments also.. it should have read: I have now started. :)

  14. Steven Black
    May 10, 2010 at 1:51 am — Reply

    You know your life is good when you are worrying about whether towels are rolled or folded, shower heads being pointed towards the wall or towards to floor or the way bathrobes are tied.One day I hope my life will reach such a pinacle of existence.

  15. Spelling Jerk
    May 10, 2010 at 8:07 am — Reply

    You know your life is good when you stay at hotels where they roll the towels, point the shower heads towards the wall and tie the bathrobes ultra conveniently.FTFY ;)

  16. Brandon
    May 11, 2010 at 3:54 am — Reply

    I have had the same great experience at a W Hotel (Aloft Richmond West in Richmond, VA). Not only was the hotel well-designed, ultra-clean, and helpfully-staffed, but the same attention to detail was given as you've described here. The rolled towel, the shower head, the bathrobes. These things may seem trivial to most individuals. However, they are but a hint that something more is going on. They show that the business has thought things through completely, and put itself in the shoes of its customers, looking through their eyes instead of its own.Most companies could improve their business (in all industries), if they'd do those two things: 1) Give more attention to detail and 2) Look at things more often from the customer's perspective.

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