Chasing Engagement

When discussing changes to an information environment, I sometimes hear “increasing engagement” stated as one of the project objectives. By this, stakeholders mean creating conditions that encourage people to spend more time in the environment, either through longer visits or more frequent ones, hoping this will increase revenue.

I understand the desire to increase engagement. That said, in many cases, ​I don’t consider useful it as a design objective. For one thing, engagement per se doesn’t signal people are getting value from the environment. (What if they’re spending more time there because they’re lost?) For another, engagement doesn’t always correlate to increased revenue. (A notable exception is environments that monetize their visitor’s attention. It’s not uncommon for these places to employ sophisticated psychological techniques to keep people engaged, even perhaps against their best interest.)

Engagement will result naturally if the environment serves people’s needs. It’s a useful tool for understanding how they respond to our design decisions ​and not something we should pursue for its own sake.