Playing with an online casino app recently prompted one of those light bulb moments of realisation. This was nothing more than a bit of casual downtime – courtesy of– but it prompted an insight that has profound implications.

Here’s the lightbulb. Online games are all about the quality of the user experience. In fact, all they are is a user experience. There is nothing else. If a game is clunky, counter-intuitive or just slow – all the things that we’d wrap together under the heading of poor design – then the odds are that within six months of its launch we’ll have forgotten all about it and moved on to the next bright new thing on the block.

Of course, there are exceptions. Who would have thought that the primitive block-based graphics of Minecraft would be such a hit? It just goes to show that when it comes to the user experience there are fundamentals that go beyond the quality of the graphics. In fact, that is one of the more easily forgotten lessons of Minecraft’s success. But this is taking us away from the main point.


Image by  Thomas8047 

Casually roaming through the pages of the 32Red site, what quickly occurred to this user, was that I was not feeling like a user in the conventional sense at all. The level of navigational immediacy, combined with absolutely crystal clear signposting meant that the more visceral gaming experience was always right at the forefront of my attention.

There is a school of phenomenology (the study of subjective experience) that talks about the different way people engage with technologies. For example, the way we might use a pair of glasses is very different to the way we might ordinarily use a chainsaw. In the first case, the glasses quickly slip out of our attention. We only notice them when they break or when they are absent. In the case of a chainsaw that level of forgetfulness is likely to have serious consequences.

In short, there are different user experiences that are intrinsic to different technologies before we ever get to ‘use’ them. And there is no guarantee about how an individual will actually use something. No doubt someone, somewhere has tried cutting wood using a pair of glasses.

Websites are no different. In fact, since the Steve Jobs revolution, UX has arguably become the first point of address in the consumer market. Functionality is no longer first amongst equals. Given that we all know this already it is perhaps surprising just how many sites continue to miss their tricks when it comes to getting their UX right. So often it is the overt branding and the super-sharp graphics that are the focus of design attention (and investment). Those things may be invaluable at the point of sale, but they count for far less once the product is in the hands of a user.

What was so impressive about the 32Red site, which has clearly benefitted from some clear-sighted and well-calibrated design work, is that it delivers a user experience which has so much more in common with wearing a pair of glasses than it has to using achainsaw. It was so good I nearly didn’t even notice it. And when it comes to UX that is precisely where the game should be at.

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