How to delight users?

Awesome products are useful, usable and delightful (in that order). While delight is the third order bit, it often ends up being the hardest to pull off. Apple is a master of  delight – from storefronts that mimic a sleeping person at night to tens of apps with a heightened sense of realism (such as Notes, PhotoBooth, Compass, Calculator and more). As a purveyor of delight, I first wrote about delightful products in 2010, but this post attempts to add some science to the art of creating delight.

Delight is best delivered subtly. Subtlety can be achieved with –

  • a witty, but honest use of words,
  • an uncanny attention to detail,
  • anticipation of user’s desires and
  • an element of surprise.

Witty words: Words can delight users, if used aptly. Airbnb’s iPhone app uses words to make their first use experience delightful. For instance, if a user hasn’t booked any trips, the app subtly nudges the user – “Search for that city you’ve always wanted to visit!” instead of showing an empty screen with an ad. I wrote about the power of words in the last post.

AirBnB

Attention to detail: Apple refers to this attention to detail as a “heightened sense of realism” in the official design guidelines for iOS apps. One of my favorite apps – ness (instant restaurant recommendations) changes the background with a mouth-watering dish that represents the search term. For instance, searching for Indian food changes the background to a dish of Channa Masala or Chicken Tikka. Such attention to detail converts a user into a fan by offering unforgettable experience.

Ness Ness

Anticipating user’s desires: While it may sound tricky, anticipating user’s desires can be simplified by focusing on user’s primary intent on a particular screen. Google is the master of anticipating user’s intents – from “I’m feeling lucky” button since the very beginning to  suggestion search. Another app that skillfully anticipates user’s desires is Songza. It takes simple cues such as time of day, day of week, day of year, etc. to deliver delightful experiences. It eliminates the need for mental math for users by recommending playlists based on activities and moods suitable for a given time.

Songza

Element of surprise: Timing is critical, when it comes to delivering delight. Twitter Music’s iPhone app masterfully surprises the user at the least expected instance. For instance, when you long press the app icon to rearrange them on your screen, the wiggling icon creates an illusion of a throbbing boom-box speaker. TwitterMusic

Further, the app uses a clever animation when a user refreshes a page – nine dots first form an arrow and then a grid with disco lights. Users don’t expect these subtle animations, but get delighted by the surprise.

TwitterMusic1 TwitterMusic2

Such delights don’t make a product more useful or usable, however they make useful products more fun, sticky and awesome. Let’s build delightful products!

-Kintan