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Tablets for problem-solving through a flow theory: the impact of navigation and visual appearance on perceived performance and efficiency

Dezhi Wu (Department of Integrated Information Technology, University of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, USA)
Jingjun (David) Xu (Department of Information Systems, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon Tong, Hong Kong)
Sue Abdinnour (Department of Finance, Real Estate, and Decision Sciences, Wichita State University, Wichita, Kansas, USA)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Article publication date: 22 January 2021




The paper aims to investigate how a tablet's design features, namely, its navigation design and visual appearance, influence users' enjoyment, concentration and control, when using tablets for problem-solving, and thereafter how their core flow experiences impact their perceived performance and efficiency with problem-solving.


This study uses a field survey approach to engage 87 participants in a decision sciences class to use eTextbooks and a few other associated educational apps including CourseSmart app for e-notes and highlighting, sketchbook app and a calculator app in tablets to resolve class problems at a large US university.


This study finds that the tablet's interface design features (navigation and visual appearance) make users engrossed in their problem-solving processes with perceived enjoyment, concentration and control. This, in turn, impacts their perceived performance and efficiency. Moreover, visual appearance plays the most significant role in arousing users' affective emotions (i.e. enjoyment), while interface navigation is crucial to engage users' deep concentration (i.e. cognition) and control for problem-solving.

Practical implications

Modern tablets are being used widely in various sectors. More in-depth user flow experience design associated with tablet use for problem-solving contexts should be further advocated in order to provide more engaging and meaningful flow experiences to users.


This study shows that the design of the tablet interface can engage users in problem-solving processes in both affective and cognitive ways. It provides valuable insights on tablet interface design for problem-solving.



This research received partial support from the University of South Carolina in USA [Grant No: 80002838], City University of Hong Kong [Projects 7005380, 7005193, 7005473], and the Digital Innovation Laboratory of Department of Information Systems at the City University of Hong Kong, and Wichita State University (technology grant) and the Business Operations and Analytics Lab at Wichita State University.


Wu, D., Xu, J.(D). and Abdinnour, S. (2021), "Tablets for problem-solving through a flow theory: the impact of navigation and visual appearance on perceived performance and efficiency", Information Technology & People, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print.



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