Well-polished details on their own are not enough for delight, the users’ goals need to be met exceptionally too.

Snowmen playing on a playground with slides and swings abstract style, generated with DiffusionBee
Snowmen playing on a playground with slides and swings abstract style, generated with DiffusionBee

☕ Delight is great UX

There are few terms in our design craft that gets both more reverence and also cause more confusion than delight.

On one hand, for practitioners delight often means a profound nuance in what we do. A nice animation, a copy written in a hilarious tone, or a polished interaction might be described as delightful. This might be because we are aware how much care needs to go into a small and mundane thing for it to stand out and this care delights us, fellow professionals.

For users, however, delight means an exceptionally great way to solve their problems. This might or might not include polished details - the key is that they resolve their original goal in an extraordinarily positive way. Especially if they approached their task filled with anxiety.

Obviously, designers need to do their user research and focus on their craft at the same time. The same goes for the other team members. Engineers need to understand what users expect to create excellent stability or performance, while product managers need to have clarity on the value delivered to have extraordinary results. Great products are created by great teams. Designers have a responsibility to raise the expected quality to deliver delightful experiences.

For these discussions to happen, designers can lean on their design teams to define what delightful would mean together. As design leaders are responsible for the overall quality - creating a common understanding of what high quality and delight are in the given context is an important, and most likely, ongoing task.

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It was more than 10 years ago, when I first heard Giles Colborne talking about Designing for delight (here is the talk version). His talk helped me realize that delight is more than just a few little neat things sprinkled around the UI. Through a couple of stories, he describes delight happening when a user’s anxiety gets resolved. This has three types: reflective, behavioral, and visceral (based on Don Norman’s Emotional Design).

Therese Fessenden also writes about delight based on Don Norman’s framework in Three Pillars of User Delight. Visceral, behavioral, and reflective delight should be all part of great design to equal measure. If there is an imbalance, delight will be shallow and ultimately fail. A good way to create balance is to have a long-term view of the user’s needs. This needs researching and understanding people’s emotions over time.

Two great articles by Jared Spool on delight:

  • Is ‘Delight’ the Best UX Design Intention? talks about how delight should be part of the design intent. Designers usually want to remove frustrations from the experience. Adding delight, the opposite of frustrations is a good way to go about it. Frustration is when expectations are not met. If expectations are exceeded, that’s a delight. So delight is the best intent designers can have.
  • Pleasure, Flow, and Meaning - The 3 Approaches to Designing for Delight introduces Dana Chisnell’s framework, the Three Approaches to Delight, that is pleasure, flow and meaning. Pleasure means humor, creating great content that gives people confidence, and removing unnecessary friction. Flow refers to creating better user flows, so steps the user needs to go through. Meaning is the purpose, the story a user can align with. For these three to work, the product needs to have good UX, which results in authentic delight.

Alex Klein argues in Designing for “delight” is dead about taking a broader perspective instead of just focusing on delight. Since even delightful products can be harmful to people, we need to look broader and also understand how design affects well-being. While delight can connect to people on an emotional level, designing for well-being strives to understand people’s deeper stories and the deeper value they are getting. The article also introduces the Periodic Table of Human Elements as a framework to humanize products.

Delight as a concept seems to be easy to understand, but it still takes effort to figure out how to think about delight within the design process. Tarek Sadi writes about Guiding principles to design for delight based on their work at Blinkist that can be used during the process. Their three guiding principles about delight are:

  1. “Design for delight by anticipating needs beyond the obvious so you can offer moments of joy.”
  2. “Design for delight by offering a surprise in otherwise dull moments.”
  3. “Design for delight by exceptionally tailoring the experience to intent and context of use.”

As priorities pile up, delight might be considered extra, and adding it to roadmaps is usually not that easy. One way to discuss this with stakeholders is through the Kano model. Brian O’Neill describes both the model and how to apply it to better understand needs in The Kano Analysis. The model describes a way to think about where to invest more, and what the investment could mean for both the overall organization focus and the time spent in the design process.

Loved The World’s Most Satisfying Checkbox by Andy Works, which is a nice case study about adding delight to a humble checkbox. The approach they take, is the “game feel”, making a single interaction (checking a checkbox) a nuanced experience. This is based on game design well - the core loop of play needs to be the best designed and most enjoyable since players will do these actions over and over again.

While not exactly about delight, Tiny Wins by Joel Califa describes how low-effort, high-impact changes add up, especially if they are focused on high-frequency actions. The users will immediately see how such changes will have a good effect on their lives which may mean a more delightful experience.