August 18, 2021

Challenges with Digital Products, Part 2: Moments of Delight

Sam Ladlow

Creative Director

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At a minimum, any good digital product must be functional, reliable, and usable, but why not make them pleasurable, too? Moments of ‘delight’ don’t often make it into MVPs, but here’s why they should.

If you’ve ever listened to the Design Better podcast, you might already be familiar with Aaron Walter. In his book, Designing for Emotion, he reimagines “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs” into a new pyramid focused on digital product design.

It looks a little something like this image below:

At the base, we’ve got functional. Every digital product needs to be able to solve a problem. Then we move upwards to reliable. Downtime isn’t going to win you many loyal fans.

Then we’ve got usable; a good digital product is a usable digital product. One that doesn’t make you think or work hard and that feels familiar from first use.

Those three elements are the essentials of building a digital product. But just like the original hierarchy, there’s one left at the top…


The role of pleasure in digital product design

Designing for pleasure often gets missed in our world of MVP priorities because it doesn’t really add much to how the product functions. But it adds everything to the overall experience.

Those little extra touches aren’t just nice to have; they can make or break your product.

They can also help solve one of the biggest challenges businesses now face; making your offer and brand stand out in a crowded market.

Think about trying to choose between travel companies, or booking websites, or anything else online. If we’re looking at two similar products at the same price, we choose the one that speaks to us; the one that makes us feel something.

If your product is the same as everyone else’s, you can’t afford to look and sound the same too. This makes ‘moments of delight’ a must-have for most online brands today.

Five creative ways to delight your audience

Here are a few ways you can build moments of delight with your audience:

  1. Gamification

Not everything will run smoothly with your digital product 100% of the time. But that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It can provide an opportunity to turn a negative experience into a memorable moment of delight. Think about gamifying frustrating and annoying moments to take the edge off.

Getting it right: Google, with their offline T-Rex dinosaur game you can play if your internet goes down.

  1. Design

What creates delight is when design goes above and beyond the merely functional to offer fun, engaging – though unnecessary – design elements to make us smile.

Getting it right: Slack, with their gif integration to empower users to communicate in different ways.

  1. Animation

There’s a bit of a fine line with animation. Too much, and it’s annoying. But get it just right, and it’s great for reinforcing a particular moment. To be honest, animation doesn’t do much. Think of it like a thank you card. Is it a waste of paper? Potentially. But at the same time, you remember the nice gesture.

Getting it right: Apple, with their confetti animation when you type ‘congratulations’ on the iPhone.

  1. Motion

Motion is an interesting one, as it creates moments of delight in two ways. Firstly, it can be used to guide users towards the next step in what they’re trying to achieve. This means that they don’t get stuck and feel frustrated with your product. Secondly, you can build little moving elements that generate big smiles.

Getting it right: Uber, with their car visual that moves across the map when your ride’s on its way.

  1. Sound

This one is definitely up for debate! Sound is very hit and miss. For example, if I hear the meeting dial sound in Teams one more time… But the fact is that there are many using sound for good. I like it when digital products use sound to reinforce an action; it’s like a little reward for doing something good!

Getting it right: Monzo, with its satisfying “kerching!” of coins tumbling into your account whenever anyone sends you money.


Adding delight to your digital products

As we can see, there are lots of ways to create moments of delight. But don’t go throwing them all in together at once. It’s important to add delight in a way that’s appropriate for your product’s users.

I recommend building your moments of delight in a way that aligns with your product principles. Our Product Experience Partner, Rich, wrote a good piece on product principles. He gave some great examples, like ‘make it quick’ and ‘keep it simple’. With principles like this, you probably don’t want some sort of intricate animation. It’s too much. It’s better to use more subtle ways to thrill your users.

But then, with principles like ‘don’t make me think’, motion-based delight can guide users through their journey in fun and somewhat unexpected way. And with a principle like ‘make bigger, bolder bets’, gamified aspects that push the boundaries of what’s considered ‘normal’ can work well.


Reach beyond basics

When building a digital product, the priority is to make sure it helps both you and your customers achieve key goals. But I think it’s a mistake to get too caught up in what we should do. It’s better to look more at what we can do.

Extra touches, like microcopy, can transform a product from one anyone can offer – into one people choose above all others.

It’s akin to seasoning a meal; a good meal can become a great meal with a twist of salt and pepper. A plain suit looks sharp when it’s smartly pressed. A simple picture becomes art when it’s well-framed.

Adding a little unexpected animation, sound or colour can seem like nothing, but it can be everything.