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D4. Minimizing Distraction and Fostering Concentration Knowledge workers are often interrupted from the immersive flows of their own practices, and some of these interruptions may undesirably pull them away from valued actions and outcomes. Product teams can envision their functionality concepts with the intention of minimizing unnecessary distractions and other obstacles to workers’ concentrated engagement in their present goals.

Where might your team’s application concepts introduce unwanted distractions into targeted workers’ practices? How could your sketched functionalities reduce unwanted interference while allowing for useful interruptions that may enhance productivity and quality in knowledge work?

It has been extremely busy, and I want to reduce any big interrup�ons...

More specific questions for product teams to consider while envisioning applications for knowledge work:

Examples from three knowledge work domains: A financial trader quickly books a peak number of trades, using multiple communication channels in parallel. While he can always access what he needs to make these important deals, his trading application does not interrupt him with certain types of new information until he has completed a long series of trade forms (see illustration). A scientist performs early explorations of a large clinical data set in her analysis application. Since she is just getting a sense for the data’s overall “shape,” she selects a calm and minimal browsing mode that turns off certain dynamic features that she sometimes finds distracting. An architect has completed a set of construction details in her building modeling application, after working on them for a couple of hours. While she waits for the tool to merge her relevant local files with the master building model, several lower priority notifications, which had been withheld while she was actively working, appear on her screen. The multipurpose nature of many computing technologies creates opportunities for diverse distractions that can contribute to or interfere with people accomplishing their goals (A). While productive interruptions can include informal collaboration with colleagues (A7, C7, G4) and other timely communication (J), unwanted distractions can include uninformative messages (D6) and the sudden intervention of unpredictable processes (C1, G3, K5). Product teams can identify parts of their sketched functionality concepts where certain distractions might be damaging. They can then envision defensive approaches that are tailored to these behavioral situations (D5, D6). As part of fostering concentration in attention intensive work, applications can promote the direct sense that workers’ actions are tightly coupled to interactive results (B3, G1). This coupling can contribute to what the psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has described as absorbing “flow experiences” (K13). When product teams do not actively consider how their application concepts might encourage productive concentration, opportunities to promote focused and engaging user experiences can be lost. Resulting tools may contain a multitude of low value distractions that create ongoing stress (E6, D1), are difficult for workers to accommodate to (D2, D7), and can detract from the quality and quantity of work outcomes (D3, L1). Conversely, if product teams take minimizing “unwanted” distractions too far, they may rule out high value functionality in the name of taming complexity. See also: C8, C9, E, F9, K3, K6, K8, K10, M1


What interruptions do targeted individuals currently experience in the work practices that your team is striving to mediate?

Financial Trader

Which interruptions do knowledge workers value as contributing to their larger goals? What distractions can have negative impacts on work outcomes? How strongly do people feel about these outside forces? Which work practices can require intensive concentration?

I am just about finished booking the deals that I have been focusing on for the last few minutes...

Which tasks or larger activities currently allow workers to experience a satisfying sense of engagement under certain conditions? Which interruptions frequently lead to observable errors or reduce the quality and quantity of workers’ outputs? Could these problems present opportunities for your team’s product? What strategies do targeted workers currently use to try to minimize unwanted distractions? How might your team’s sketched application concepts influence workers’ current experiences of distraction and engagement?

And now that I haven’t got any trade �ckets open, the so�ware is giving me some alerts that were not top priority while I was comple�ng other deals...

What undesirable distractions could your computing tool introduce? What approaches might your team envision to limit or eliminate these factors within your sketched scenarios for work mediation? How might your application concepts promote and enhance existing forms of engagement in workers’ experiences? How might your sketched functionalities desirably introduce this type of engagement into other practices? How could your team’s offering present calming “environments” for workers to act within, while at the same time usefully directing their attentions with relevant and appropriately weighted perceptual cues?

It looks like there are a couple of items from our preferred firms that I should take care of next...

Where could interactions in your product meaningfully promote a strong sense of direct, tightly coupled connection with onscreen objects? Current Alerts Preferred Firm Message

Preferred Firm Message

How might your application concepts provide additional support in these areas for an aging knowledge workforce? Do you have enough information to usefully answer these and other envisioning questions? What additional research, problem space models, and design concepting could valuably inform your team’s application envisioning efforts?

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