Is it possible to use the concept of 'fun' to make a system more effective?
How can fun actually improve the functioning of a system? I am looking for clear, solid reasoning around how this might work.
This question is a bit vague but take a look at The concept of Gamification.
Gamification techniques strive to leverage people's natural desires for socializing, learning, mastery, competition, achievement, status, self-expression, altruism, or closure. Early gamification strategies use rewards for players who accomplish desired tasks or competition to engage players. Types of rewards include points, achievement badges or levels, the filling of a progress bar, or providing the user with virtual currency. Making the rewards for accomplishing tasks visible to other players or providing leader boards are ways of encouraging players to compete. - From the Wikipedia I linked
If you want to dig deeper check out five-steps-to-enterprise-gamification or this awesome article on gamification by smashing magazine
In my opinion a lot of apps and sites get Gamification totally wrong.
Here what not to do Adding some sort of metric like coins or points to a boring experience and calling it a day. Or adding points or achievements to routine tasks expecting people to be drawn in and encourages to come back.
You need to try and make the experience something fun and enjoyable that doesnt seem like work.
Poor application of Gamification
For example would you be more likely to make more copies at work if every time you went there you scanned your badge and got a point for each copy made and it showed your point total? My guess is no.
Better application of Gamification
Would one might be encouraged to use a running app more frequently if they could see their routes as drawings and possibly try to copy other drawings in their city or have the top drawn running routes posted to a leaderboard? I think this is more possible than the copy example.
Heres some examples That i think use Gamification well
When not to use gamification (from the smashing magazine article i linked)
This article is on the old side but can maybe point you in the right direction - http://pando.com/2013/10/18/smartphones-are-making-shopping-more-fun/