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I think most of us know when an experience is too playful, but I'm talking about subtle interactions to delight the user.

I think it is too much when it prevents or postpones the user from reaching their goal or accomplishing their intent.

Now, for the question. Is a change in interface to reflect the time of day too much? The main layout stays the same.

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What do you mean 'to reflect the time of day'? Something like f.lux that adapts the colour of the screen depending on the time of day? Do you have anything specific in mind? – JonW Apr 19 '13 at 7:53
Like f.lux is exactly what I had in mind. – IMUXIxD Apr 20 '13 at 4:25
up vote 5 down vote accepted

I think, if its being done because the user needs to know the time of day when using the interface, then it could work nicely.

For example, someone who works remotely for a company in a different time zone, may appreciate the reminder that the rest of the company may be asleep (not the best example).

If its done just for the sake of it, then its probably not worth it.

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Good point. My general rule is that if it allows or is necessary for the display of information, then to keep it. – IMUXIxD Apr 20 '13 at 4:27

There are a couple of great services out there who dynamically shifts the interface style based on contextual input, Sony Playstation XMB and Gmail to mention a few. So sure, it can definitely be pulled off without scaring off its users.

Question is though both how you do it and why you do it. You say that it's only styling and not layout that is being shifted, and yea, I would agree that this would be the 101 lesson for this behavior (that is unless of course the usage pattern for the service is greatly influenced by general contextual input/circumstances, such as shifting between landscape/portrait mode on mobile devices). And also why you do it. Is it simply to delight the user, in the case of Gmail where the change doesn't really have any usable effect, or does it bring any function, like navigation systems switching to a darker color scheme when the surroundings are dark? If it's merely for delight, make it subtle, and iterate the design some extra turns to surely establish that the change isn't too much/obstructive.

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I think a change in interface to reflect the time of the day should only be done if it benefits your app/software in some way, for example in a weather app or timer

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I would not call the time change example playful. It is more of a serendipitous experience.

Take the example of many weather apps out there, most recently the Yahoo! weather app. They change the background to match that of the weather outside and match the time of the day. If you check the weather at night, it is dark and starry, if you check it during the day it has blue skies and clouds in it. Rather than distracting the user, it is giving the user a feel of trust. If the screen matches what I see outside, it reinforces my trust in the application.

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