Written by Michelle Brown

As I fought to run away from a sudden hoard of attackers before they killed me, I accidentally pulled out my cell phone holding it up so that it completely blocked my vision with a map of the town. I continued to run blindly into the darkness as I struggled to put the phone away to see where I was going. I managed to store it just before I ended up running into a dead end and narrowly avoided yet another cell phone death.

Anyone who has played Silent Hill: Shattered Memories might be familiar with this cell phone problem. The button to turn on and off your flashlight is right next to the one to pull your cell phone out. When creatures appeared, you’d often want to quickly shut off your flashlight and would accidentally pull out your cell phone. It was frustrating and lead to many deaths. The usability of this and many other video games I have played in the past haven’t exactly been top notch but not only did I finish many of these games but I also enjoyed them. So, what’s going on here?

User experience is more than the user being able to complete their tasks. There are a couple of other important factors in addition to usability that go into creating a great user experience. Today we’ll be talking about a factor that heavily comes into play in the entertainment field: desirability.

In anything that a user doesn’t have to use or when the user has a lot of choice, desirability immediately plays a stronger role. In tasks that a user doesn’t really want to do, such as exercising, learning, or eating well-balanced meals, desirability becomes vital.

Improving Desirability With Gamification

When learning to do new things such as playing the guitar or speaking a new language, practice is very important. Unfortunately, practice because of its repetitive nature, is often boring. This is why you’ll see a lot of education products using gamification to increase desirability.

Gamification aims to increase your motivation through extrinsic methods such as trophies, leaderboards, unlockable content, and levelling up.

Gamification also often creates intrinsic motivation if the game mechanics are engaging enough on their own without the outside rewards from the system.

Below are some screenshots from Duolingo, a successful gamified language learning experience. On the left screen, you can see that additional content can be unlocked by the user as they progress in their lessons and gain the in game currency ‘Lingots’. To the right you can see at the bottom of the screen some motivation to maintain a streak and reach the daily personal goal that the user set.

Desirability

In addition, with a recent update, Dulingo has increased its engagement with the user, by reducing the number of pauses in the gameplay. In a prior version, when users would start a lesson they would be given three hearts. Every time a user would answer a question incorrectly they would lose one of the hearts. Three wrong answers and the user was kicked out of the lesson and had to start again. By kicking the user out of the lesson, they were creating a quitting point, a pause in the action for the user to give up.

In the recent update, Dulindo no longer has hearts, but rather has a progress meter that goes up with each right answer and down with each wrong answer. Users are no longer kicked out of the lesson and the lesson continues for as long as it takes the user to fill the progress meter. This keeps users engaged longer, reduces discouragement, and gives a feeling of progress, rather than stress that they could lose a heart.

Keeping the user feeling like they are engaged in a journey rather than making them start afresh is leveraging the endowed progress effect to keep players playing for longer. All this increases desirability. When users are constantly succeeding at lessons rather than constantly failing them, they feel better about their performance and progress, potentially increasing their level of intrinsic motivation as well.

Another learning game that uses this same method is Rocksmith. In this game, users learn to play the guitar by playing songs, minigames, and completing lessons. While in lesson mode users are asked to practice what they have just learned and the lesson won’t advance until they play the music correctly. Instead of kicking users out if they play a piece of music wrong and bringing them back to the menu, the system will show the same music across the screen again and again until the user plays it correctly.

This game also offers extrinsic motivation (through trophies, unlockable content, leaderboards, and levelling) and intrinsic motivation as users progress further and further in songs and begin to see more notes.

In addition, repetitive practice of scales and chords becomes more fun and addictive through minigames each with their own levelling systems and skill challenges.

Both Dulingo and Rocksmith proudly proclaim on their websites to be great ways to learn and a big part of their success is from the amount of effort that was put into their desirability.

Desirability in Non-Gaming Situations

Have you ever bought an item of clothing even though you knew it was anything but practical? Desirability and usability also often come to odds in the fashion industry.

The functional goals of shoes are to keep our feet dry, clean, and safe from harm while not limiting our movement. So any shoe that fulfills these goals, is a usable shoe. However, take a walk in any shoe store and you’ll find a large assortment of shoes that don’t meet these requirements. What these shoes lack in usability, they make up in desirability. These shoes don’t just sit on the shelves and collect dust; they are bought just as often as the usable shoes.

Once these shoes with poor usability are taken home though, how much are they worn? That glass slipper might be sounding pretty desirable up until you have blisters everywhere and have lost one in a sad attempt at running in them. Which brings us to the next point.

Desirability Can Only Take You So Far

If your usability is severely lacking, being desirable alone is not going to save you. My sister really wanted to play Skyrim and so bought it for the PS3. The game concept looked really interesting and she was excited to play it. However, as soon as she began to play usability problems began to crop up: really bad usability problems. She inadvertently killed characters by accidentally hitting the shoat button, she had to restart missions because goals weren’t clear, and she once had to wander in the wilderness for 30 min with her character stuck in a slow moving crouch. This is even after she lost an hour in the first part of playing the game because she died before the first autosave and was forced to recreate her character from scratch. Eventually the game was abandoned in frustration, it was no longer fun. No matter how desirable the game appeared Skyrim wasn’t nearly desirable enough to make up for its utter lack of usability. Other products have suffered from this as well. Both the Leap Motion and the Nest have high desirability, but the actual experience of using the products has left some users with sore arms andcold.

For certain applications, desirability becomes a major concern in your design and should be focused on to make a good product. However, this should not come at the expense of your usability. Usability is key in all applications, because if the user can’t use your product, they won’t.