Designing for Delight 101

Should we always delight?

“Delight” is something we’ve been hearing a lot about lately. It entails adding flare to our websites to make people smile, have fun, and remember your website more than others. Many times, this is achieved with the use of:

  • Cute characters
  • Fun animations
  • Sound effects
  • Fun microcopy

You get the idea. For many websites, this isn’t an option. A more serious tone is required and playfulness just isn’t an option. In such cases, there are still ways to “delight” your users.

What does it mean to delight?

At its core, designing for delight is about making an emotional connection with your users. When you delight your users, you are bringing them some amount of pleasure by using your site. In his book Designing for Emotion, Aarron Walter gave us the “hierarchy of user needs” where he proposes that before we design for delight or emotion, we need to get everything else right. Your site needs to be functional, reliable, and usable in order to be successful (page 7).

If your site doesn’t meet these three basic requirements, your users won’t come back, no matter how much of an emotional connection you make. Once we have accomplished the basics, we can start thinking about making that lasting emotional connection.

Why is it important to delight?

When you are able to make an emotional connection with your users, they feel delight. When people have stronger than average emotional experiences, they remember things better. If people remember your site above others, it will keep them coming back to experience it again. Emotional connections also help keep users engaged, which can increase conversions.

When you are successful in adding “delight” to your website, it will help your users become better accustomed to using your product, and ultimately, achieving their goals. If you are able to get emotional satisfaction from something, you are more likely to “stick to it” and get the job done.

Ways to use delight appropriately

Many sites can still use the list mentioned above of ways to achieve delight without coming off as unnecessarily cute or inappropriate. In fact, when used correctly, most of these methods can increase the user experience while adding to the emotional connection:

  • Personality – Sometimes manifested as cute characters, adding personality to your site really means staying on brand. Extend metaphors, illustrations, etc. from email blasts, to landing pages, and to the secure site.
  • Animation – Animations can definitely feel superficial and over the top, but when used appropriately (read: subtle), they can send important signals. You can use animation to give feedback on actions, lead the eye on a page, or to indicate loading (loading screen, elements of the page appearing piece by piece, etc.).
  • Sound effects – Using sound isn’t for everyone, but it can be particularly useful in providing feedback with touch screens. Facebook has a little chime when you refresh your news feed, and many task manager apps will have sounds when you check items off your list or delete something.
  • Microcopy – Often we think of microcopy (the text you include on things like forms, buttons, footers, and 404 pages) as being silly or snarky, but it doesn’t have to be! Your microcopy should match the tone you set on the rest of your site. A retirement benefits site, for example, might want to be guiding and encouraging.

Deep delight

When everything is done right, your users can achieve deep delight, or the state of “flow”. Flow is a term used in psychology defined as “the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity” (1). According to the Nielsen Norman Group, this state can only be achieved when all parts of the hierarchy of user needs have been met (2). Achieving deep delight is hard to do, but is the ultimate goal. When a person is in a state of flow, they get so wrapped up in what they are doing, and are so efficient, they don’t even notice the design or that they are even using a UI at all.

Emotional connections over delight

Once our designs are functional, reliable, and usable, we should always try to establish an emotional connection with our users. This doesn’t necessarily mean adding delight in the traditional sense: cute illustrations and being generally playful, but you should find ways to speak to your users in a way they will understand and connect with. If you can achieve this, your users will remember your product better, use it better, and keep coming back!


Categories: Experience Design, Visual Design
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