Delight

Nov 6, 2017

Products need delight. We’ve learned that from the success of Slack and the near infinite digital ink spilled on the concept by designers and product managers. It is that secret ingredient that draws users into the thing they are using and makes them come back, wanting more. It is more than simple functionality or clean design, it is a moment of emotion that grabs the user and creates a sense of enjoyment as they walk through the task they are trying to achieve with your software.

Historically, I’ve been terrible at it. In the past, I’ve been content with throwing some awesome_printed object on the screen and calling it awesome. (That is the name of the gem, after all.) And when I’ve tried to make something delightful I have usually made it less so. I think that is, perhaps, because I didn’t really know what it was but also because it is not my natural default. Like design, however, there are parts of it that can be learned.

At my last job, working with the CTO of Spoon University, Sarah Adler, I saw how she was able to consistently create and curate delightful experiences naturally and organically and I was always amazed at how simple drop downs and copy changes transformed an otherwise vanilla page into something truly delightful and elicited a response from our users. Over the course of many months, here are a few ways I saw how she did it that I have tried to learn from and copy.

Empathy

Empathy is a key ingredient because creating delight is not about creating it for some random user or a user you are not personally connected to. It is also not about creating delight for yourself. What you may find delightful may, and most likely, will, be completely different from what your user will find delightful. Who are they? What do they need? How do they speak? What do they expect and how can you play with their expectations to give them something they goes beyond those expectations?

It is hard to keep this frame of reference in mind when building for people. Especially when you get lost in your own abilities to do something. Just because you can make a modal spin upside down and fade to white as it’s closed, doesn’t mean you should. Keeping this as close to the front of your mind while building or designing is crucial for success.

Purpose

If the delightful thing you build doesn’t bring your user closer to their goal, then it is just a distraction, something meaninglessly pretty, that, at the very best, is visually pleasing. Similar to the basic goal of empathy, keeping the user’s purpose in mind and driving them towards the realization of that purpose in unexpected ways, will help them achieve their goals while giving them something functionally pleasing.

Is the feature you’re building fundamentally crucial to the problem your user is trying to solve? If so, then you are most of the way there! If not, get the feature built simply and iterate against it until it both has a fundamental purpose as well as an implementation that sparks delight.

Surprise

Simple small things, like the language you use on a helper field in a form or the highlight effect you use to focus a user’s attention can surprise them and remind them of a beneficent spirit in the machine, helping them towards their purpose and reminding them that there is a human element that is at work. Hard, cold, technical implementations lack the warmth that allows a user to find the delight under the shifting pieces of a web app.

Keep On Keeping On

I’ve come a long way from imagining web design like this as delightful but the creation and cultivation of delight is something I constantly strive towards in my full stack work. It is something that we can learn and continuing to work towards it can enforce the habits of empathy, feature design, and surprise. In my own work, it has been great to see these above practices put into place and manifest as the oft declared but seldomly implemented value of delight in a digital product. It is something I continue to work towards. The single best thing that has improved this deficiency of my mind has been working with someone else who grasps it intuitively and learning through slow osmosis.

In the meantime, here’re a couple of other articles I’ve found interesting and applicable to the idea of delight in products that may, or may not be useful for you.