5 Valuable UX Lessons Learned from Board Games How Board Games can help IT designers and UX design agencies to refine the user experience of their web sites and apps

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There is a lot in common between board games and digital products – they both focus on obtaining new users. The faster they acquire these new users, the better - for if people remain unengaged for too long they are much more likely to look for alternatives. The best games and products are straight forward, easy to navigate and provide clear rules and terms of use.

In this article, we review 5 valuable lessons from board games that can help improve user experience in digital products. Many UX design agencies are already well aware of these things and are successfully applying them. At the same time, many other companies are ignorant about these practices. If you want to get a better idea of what a user interface should be like, you’d better look into board games. By applying these practices to your UX design process, you are securing a stable flow of unusual solutions that lead to higher quality product designs.

Lesson #1. Practical Learning

If you’ve ever been to a game night, you probably remember that one person who reads the rules of a new game. Do you remember them trying to explain the rules to everyone else? In most cases, they say something like, “Alright, let’s just start playing, and I’ll explain everything along the way.” The thing is, reading a game’s rules is often more complicated than learning to play by seeing and doing.

The same goes for digital products. Most users want to start using one and find out how it works in the process. Thus, they shouldn’t have any trouble getting started and learning how to do the most basic tasks. That is, if you are designing a website, it should be intuitive and include subtle guiding tips, whereas if you’re creating an app, you might want to include tutorials, demos, or videos.

Lesson #2. Common Practices

Games that involve standard gaming practices are simpler. These practices include using spinners or dice for moves, game pieces that move clockwise on the board, or things commonly used in a wide range of board games such as money and cards. Such ordinary items let new players learn a new game quickly. For instance, maybe you’ve never played Monopoly previously, but if you have played other board games, such as Life or Settlers of Catan, you shouldn’t have much trouble learning to play.

The situation is similar to user interfaces: practices commonly used in a wide range of digital products make them intuitive and memorable. Such solutions let users focus on whatever they want to do instead of trying to find out how a user interface works. And don’t worry, these standard practices will not limit your team’s creative ability. On the contrary, you don’t need to invent the wheel – use them as a foundation for an outstanding and unique result.

Lesson #3. Consistency

Consistency is a crucial feature of any good board game. Application of the same rules in different situations makes the game easier to figure out while making players confident in their understanding of the game’s rules. At the same time, if the game isn’t consistent, players will get confused in the process. Let’s take Monopoly as an example once more: it comes in a wide range of versions, each being different in some way, but their basic rules and premise are pretty much the same. So, no matter how many Monopoly versions you’ve played, you should have no problem learning how to play The Walking Dead or Rick and Morty version of Monopoly

Consistency matters for the user interface, as well, as it is an essential part of UX design. A consistent digital product is predictable and understandable, which is a guarantee of its use simplicity. By making a product – let’s say an app – that is consistent with other similar products, you allow users to apply their knowledge of other apps in the one you’ve made (or designed). One of the most prominent examples here would be Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Word – while sharing a lot of similar functions and standard design, they are different. Still, their consistency makes them simple to get acquainted with if you’ve ever had experience with either of them.

Lesson #4. Help Is Just Around the Corner

Is it not uncommon for players to find themselves in a situation where they must refer to the rulebook regardless of how well they know the rules of whatever game they are playing For instance:

  • What do you have to do when you marry in the Life game?
  • What is the next piece you have to build in Mousetrap?
  • If you get out of jail for $50 in Monopoly, do you have to wait till the next turn, or can you roll and take a turn immediately?

A well-compiled and properly labeled rulebook with an index or table of contents allows for easy to find answers to the above questions for players. When the rules and instructions are clear, the game always flows better.

In the same manner, your website or app should only resort to the Help section in the last instance, when the user can’t figure things out on their own. The problem is that when it comes to digital products, Help isn’t always concise and short, like in board games. Nevertheless, Help sections can be useful and as simple as possible by being researchable and interactive, thus improving user experience.

Lesson #5. Memorability as a Key

There’s one thing about new board games – people often don’t play them again for months after their first play. However, if a person tries playing a game they learned a few months back, they will quickly recall everything vital about it, if it’s memorable enough. One might need to refresh their memory of the rules, but that’s all. Board games succeed in memorability via simple basic rules, standard practices, and consistency – all of which have been described above.

Memorability plays a significant role in digital products, too. You want users to remember how to use a website or app after some period of not using it. And, like board games, digital products remain memorable via simple functions, standard user interface practices, and consistency. All of these factors are crucial for ensuring a great user experience.

Aspire for New Techniques and Concepts

While digital products are very different from board games, learning some of the fundamental techniques and principles that make them so successful will help you and your team in coming up with great UX designs. Applications and websites nowadays often seem to move away from being user-friendly and instead focus on visual representation rather than functionality and usability. Popular board games are an excellent example of dealing with human behavior and using it to your advantage. So, don’t be afraid to discover new concepts and ideas by looking to the tried and true methods of board games. 

About Alice

Layout designer, SEO & marketing analyst. Since 2010 is also a junior developer, working on the web site back-end infrastructure of some italian press companies. She also actively manages a number of social pages (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) for some IT companies and press agencies.

View all posts by Alice

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