I would consider Hidden Objects in a U/I to be an anti-pattern, but with the increasing popularity of Hidden Object games is this paradigm changing? If nearly everything is click-able, and there is no harm in clicking, isn't some indication of a hot spot simply visual noise?

I personally despise Hidden Object games - I enjoy the puzzle solving aspects, but not the random clicking all over the screen. In my opinion the Hidden Object should continue be an anti-pattern. However, I'm willing to accept that I am clinging to an outdated paradigm (and showing my age). As I watch my kids interact with various UIs I see them simply click on EVERYTHING to see what happens. They just don't seem to mind. Me? I'd rather not go spelunking around the screen just to see what happens - I'm trying to do something and want to get it done quickly.

Similarly, I know that flat UI is considered clean and less distracting. I still miss the obvious visual cues that an object on the screen will react to my input, be it a text box or a button.

  • 1: Are hidden object games really that popular? 2: Even in those games, I think the point of the game is to make logical connections that lead you to discover the hidden object...but there is still some visual cue. It just might not be obvious right away. 3: I think your description of your behavior vs. your kids' matches this NNGroup article about designing for kids. Check out their article about flat design while you're at it.
    – Nate Green
    May 5, 2016 at 21:01

2 Answers 2



These two things are similar but incompatible and comparing them isn't going to work.

A game aims to challenge the player, to make things just hard enough that they feel rewarded when they overcome the obstacles, but not so frustrating that they give up. The player interacts with the game because they want to and because they enjoy the challenge or the reward from mastering it.

A user interface shares the goal of not being frustrating, but ideally all obstacles have been removed so that the user can complete their tasks as effortlessly as possible. The user interacts only because they have to to accomplish their goal, which is unrelated to the interface itself.

Games tend to emphasize emergent events that come from the players experimenting and discovering how things work. UIs tend to emphasize discoverability so that users don't have to experiment.

Even inside a hidden object game, if the menu to start or save the game hid all the menu elements it might be amusing in a meta sort of way, but that will wear off quickly and turn to annoyance when the user can't find the command when they need it.

  • +1 very important that you have pointed out the distinction related to the context of its application. I suppose in actual fact 'dark patterns' are not actually good or bad, just that some people use it in a way that does not create desirable outcomes for the user.
    – Michael Lai
    May 5, 2016 at 22:33

No, but yes.

It won't become a useful pattern, but it can be an enjoyable pattern.

Like you said, it's about exploration and surprises. If you've ever heard about the term 'easter egg' in relation to videogames (or other media) you know what this means. It's not the main goal, but it's fun for those who want to spend some extra time.

But as for usefulness, no. If you have set a goal for yourself, it should be as clear to reach as possible in the interface. Even in hidden object games you can (or should be able to, anyway) use the inventory and such without having to puzzle it out. Interface design should function, and not be mystery meat.

If you want to include things in your interface, you can start by looking at how Google does things. The search website always works the same. Enter a query, hit enter (or press 'feeling lucky') and you get your results. But they regularly swap out the logo with "doodles". Some are still images, some are animations, some are complete games. None really interfere with the actual purpose of the site.

Of course, one of the reasons google can do it because it's ubiquitous enough that people still understand the site even when it's missing the logo. Another reason is because it's a simple site. The more complex your site (or app) is, the more likely it is your easter egg will get in the way of productivity.

You have to make sure that your interaction doesn't take the place of functional interaction. But you also have to make sure that it doesn't take up empty space, so that if users click outside of a popup to cancel, they dont accidentally trigger an unexpected event. In other words, it cannot be a functional element, not a whitespace element.

Another problem is that a regular interface changes a lot. In a hidden object game you can keep clicking all over the screen and, while things will animate, you'll stay on that screen. But click any link on this website, and you'll move away. You can't (enjoyably) explore a space when every interaction with it leads you to another space. Note: there are sites that work that way (wikipedia, tvtropes) but that's a whole different story.

In short; it's a novel idea that can be put to some use... but be very, very careful with it.

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