That which makes us human

Early in my career as a product designer, I was working on an app for patients undergoing chemotherapy when the client asked “How can we make this experience delightful?”

Once I got over my initial shock from the contradictions inherent to that question, I dug a little deeper.

What is delight? And how can we design experiences that are highly engaging, even when those experiences are difficult and challenging?

I dug into Behavior Change Theory, oncology research, nursing guides and habit formation UX studies. (My 20-year-old self, who studied critical theory, psychology, and sociology, felt finally vindicated for my otherwise undervalued degrees.)

From my research, I developed a formula:

Engagement = users’ intrinsic motivations + delight

When we think of delight, we’re often thinking of surface delight:

Ocean illustration with water labeled “deep delight” and sky labeled “surface delight.” Sky includes beautiful user interfaces, microcopy, tactile transitions & interactions, animation, sound.
“Is There a Formula for Delight?”

But this is just one area of opportunity as designers.

“Surface delight can be very effective, but the problem is that the novelty factor of surface delight fades over time. What was new and exciting yesterday easily becomes commonplace today…

A delightful user experience is often about invisibility. Getting out of the user’s way. We all know that something that “just works” can be extremely delightful…

From a UX standpoint, if we create products that are completely frictionless, and encourage users to get into that flow state, we’re creating happy, productive users and a deeper level of delight.” — Ben Rowe

Deep, invisible delight is much more meaningful and tied to human’s needs and motivations. It can often come from anticipating users’ needs, before they even have them:

Ocean illustration with water labeled “deep delight” and sky labeled “surface delight.” Water includes reduce the pain, behavioral, reflective, flow, pleasure, meaning, helping users kick ass.
“Is There a Formula for Delight?”

In ideations on delight, I ask my teams “What are some experiences, apps that bring you deep delight?”

Answers included:

Perfectly worn-in boots:

photo of well worn in leather boots

Perfectly organizing your pantry with items from the container store:

photo of organized pantry

The feeling of financial pleasure when you hear the Venmo “cha-ching” (note the sound itself is surface delight, the economic implications is deep delight).

The sense of accomplishment when you‘ve completed a Duolingo streak:

Duolingo’s streak celebration

In Invisible Details of Interaction Design, Rauno Freiberg writes:

“There’s a unique human component to interaction design. Why? Because ultimately people are trying to get stuff done using a product. Beauty in form and composition is not enough. There’s an inherent satisfaction apparent in striking a holistic balance between form and function. Great interaction design rewards learning by reusing metaphors…Great interactions are modeled after properties from the real world, like interruptability.”

Take, for instance, swiping horizontally to navigate between pages:

Gif of a hand swiping left and right on an ipad.
Rauno Freiberg

and the learned behavior of flipping through pages in a book:

Gif of a hand swiping left and right on a book
Rauno Freiberg

Or pinching along an anchor point:

Gif of a hand pinching and zooming on an ipad.
Rauno Freiberg

And the precision required in pinching spices:

Gif of a hand pinching and sprinkling spices.
Rauno Freiberg

These interactions are inherently delightful because they are deeply human.

Asana is known for the surface delight of its celebration creatures:

Asana celebration creatures animations

But Asana’s users also experience deep delight when they achieve flow state in a focused text editor:

Asana’s project brief text editor.
Design by Micah Bennett

Their pain is also reduced with automatic goal progress roll-ups. They no longer have to rely on arduous, manual reporting on business-critical goals and objectives:

Asana’s goal tracking experience.
Design by Catt Small

And they are further able to kick ass by quickly reporting on goals using generated status updates:

Goal with “generated by ai” status update pop up.
AI: Asana Intelligence

For these and other smart suggestions to work, users have to trust the brand and its algorithm.

When testing such features at Asana, we learned that the usability and reliability of simple, basic experiences factor heavily into whether users trust the product’s more advanced insights and recommendations.

Samuel Hulick of UserOnboard is often quoted as saying that:

“People don’t buy products; they buy better versions of themselves.”

Small Mario with label “person who’s a potential customer” + fire flower with label “your product” = Super Fire Mario with label “Awesome person who can do rad shit.” Arrow pointing to flower “this isn’t what your business makes.” Arrow pointing to Super Fire Mario “this is.”
Features vs Benefits

Artificial intelligence is the latest fireball-gifting flower for users and designers:

“A great example of flow at play in a digital product is iA Writer, a simple writing app, without any of the bloat or the complexity that tools like Microsoft Word have. Instead of getting caught up in using the software, you get lost in your own writing instead. You forget that you’re even using an application, and you move into a state of flow.” — Ben Rowe

The essential role of a product designer is understanding Mario — what are his motivations, pains and needs? How do we build his trust so that he feels confident enough to eat a burning flower? What rad shit can he do once he uses our product?

“Assisted intelligence improves what people and organizations are already doing, augmented intelligence enables organizations and people to do things they couldn’t otherwise do, and autonomous intelligence systems act on their own.” —Kathleen Walch

When humans are interfacing with assisted, augmented or autonomous intelligence, other humans will always be needed to understand and craft those experiences.

Categorized as UX

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