If you’re building consumer software, you’re never wrong to follow the classic refrain, “form follows function.” Whether it’s a smart phone app, a traditional desktop application, or a website, an app’s user interface should extend from the problem it’s trying to solve. In other words, the problem needs to inform the solution. Well-designed UIs provide an intuitive interface in order to allow you to accomplish your goals as quickly and elegantly as possible. Less adeptly-designed interfaces interfere with that goal–constantly getting in your way and impeding your goals.
But when a product’s UI does match its purpose–when copy is succinct and precise, when functionality directly solves users’ problems without hoops, hurdles, or confusion, when all bugs have been dealt with–the next design goal is that of delight.
It’s not a product feature. It won’t appear as a marketing bullet. It’s not a universal notion that that will grab all users. It’s not something that can be easily pointed to like, “there–that’s a delightfully-designed piece of software.” Yet nothing gratifies and earns trust among users better than software that’s designed to delight.
Software that is intentionally designed to delight is empathetic software. It’s software designers saying to users, “We’re users of this software too. So we value your time. We value this experience. Let’s accomplish our goals and get you on your way–but let’s have a fun, memorable time doing it.”
However, delightful software doesn’t always have to be fun or funny, although that can play a part. I enjoy a clever bit of humorous copy or a cute cartoon product mascot, but if it’s overused it becomes annoying (Think of “humorous” catch phrases that video game characters use–they’re funny the first time, not the 400th time). Humor and fun in software can also backfire in other ways, as we’ll see in part 2. A light and fun tone in website copy or user instructions is usually a good antidote for overly vague businessy speak.
Intentionally delightful software is software that’s designed with a clear attention to detail. It’s easier and cheaper to build software that’s strictly functional. But again, software interface designers are saying, “We’re willing to take the extra time and effort to make this experience better.”
Some software developers may scoff at “eye candy”–but eye candy for eye candy’s sake is never the goal. Form before function, or form that gets in the way of function is a detriment. Delightfully-designed software may contain plenty of rounded corners, vibrant colors, shadows, gradients, textures, and animations–but that’s not what it’s about.
An app that–in addition to first efficiently solving user’s goals–is visually-appealing and a delight to use did not arrive at that place by simply layering on a coat of brightly-colored paint.
Sometimes it’s the unexpected things. The things that normal users might not see, but users poking around a bit might stumble across.
Maybe it is a quirky error message that lets you know that, “something bad happened, but it’s not as bad as all that.”
As a software interface designer, you may not care about users–you may hold yourself to such a high standard or you may care about your product to such a degree that something purposefully delightful just flows out from your effort. But you’re ultimately building something for people to use. Building something for someone, somewhere, sitting at her desk or walking down the sidewalk thinking, “Oh I know–I have just the tool for this problem. And I can’t wait to use it.”
Part 2 is about specific apps that are a delight to use.