Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Phenomenology of Enjoyment - notes

This post is part of a draft for a new academic paper aimed at a graphic design journal and represents an idea-in-progress. Feel free to comment but questions on how or what next will be answered in future posts as I construct my paper.

Within his work on Flow (1990) psychologist Mihalyi Csikszentimihalyi provides eight components for a phenomenology of enjoyment. These components are all (or mostly) present in a particular aesthetic experience and are:

#1 Chance of completing
The sense of enjoyment appears to sit at an interface between boredom and anxiety. To enjoy an activity there appears a need for the tension between boredom and anxiety in completing it. Based upon an individual’s existing skills if the activity is too easy a person will become bored too quickly. If it is too difficult they will feel anxious about not completing it. Therefore the enjoyment emerges out of an aesthetic experience where that tension is exciting, and the completion is possible with an application of the ‘self’ in its achievement.

#2 Concentration on actions
When a person is engaged in an experiential moment that is not anaesthetic, all other aspects of their life can be existentially forgotten for a time, as enjoyable activities command a complete focusing on that moments actions. The structured demands of that experience impose a sense of order in the person’s consciousness, in turn excluding any interference from their everyday worries and responsibilities within the duration of that same experience.

#3 clear goals
Within the experience clear goals of open-ended activities emerge out of ambiguities, but these are not superficial and simple, nor are they always preformed. The open-endedness of creative situations begin with vague goals that are subsequently fleshed out during the activity in a sense of exploration. Without an emergent clarity of goals to aim for the experience will unstructured and meander. With even initial vague goals feedback will inform of when they have been met.

#4 immediate feedback
The kind of feedback that is worked toward is valid in its symbolic message it contains. It informs us of our level of success in achieving our goals. It creates order in consciousness and strengthens the structure of the self. The feedback required by the individual is variable. The key is that as long as the feedback is logically related to our goal, any feedback can become enjoyable - even feedback that isn’t positive.

#5 effortless involvement
Once in an enjoyable experience the desire and purpose is not to peak and to come out of the Flow of the experience - to return to a conscious self. A state of effortless involvement is enacted but this not all that it feels. To feel that, on reflection, the involvement has been effortless does still involve skilled performance. A lapse in concentration returns the individual to a state of self-consciousness, and self-evaluation - the state of Flow is interrupted.

#6 sense of control over self
Enjoyment in leisure activities is distinct from mundane everyday activities where any bad things can happen. Within an autotelic experience where the end is itself rewarding, the enjoyment is consuming without anxiety of failure. There is a paradox here as there is a sense of control over the self - or a lack of worry of about losing control that we do not have in our everyday existence.

#7 concern for self disappears
The loss of self-consciousness and concern for their self during an experience, is due to little opportunity for the self to feel threatened. Enjoyable activities have clear goals, stable rules and the challenge within the skills of the individual. Comfort zones can thus be pushed where the challenge is enjoyable. The loss of self-consciousness does not involve a loss of self or of consciousness - but just a loss of consciousness of the self.

#8 Sense of time is altered
The freedom from the tyranny of objective time when in a state of complete involvement is exhilarating. The intense concentration an individual finds themselves in when absorbed in an enjoyable experience. Timing may still be objectively the same, but the sensation of passing of time is altered. It may be perceived as speeding up or slowing down despite pacing of actions or goals.

In these phenomenological components the four existentials of spatiality, corporeality, temporality and relationality manifest themselves. It is within this phenomenological space that Visual Communication can connect and consociate with Interaction Design by providing rich abstracted concepts to visually develop the discipline further toward the design of better interactions.


CSIKSZENTIMIHALYI, M. (1990) Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper

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