the only magic trick you need for designing your customer experience

“Write so that the words disappear.”

When I was first given that advice, I was so confused. After all, as a writer, don’t you pride yourself on every word you agonize over, every sentence you craft with care?

But I was missing the point — you see, it’s not about pride or ego. It’s not about being noticed. Great writing is about making people forget that they are reading. Immerse them so completely in the words and the worlds you’re creating and that’s when you’ll find success.

It’s an insight I try to write by everyday.

But I’ve quickly realized that this advice is not only for writers. It’s actually better suited for brands seeking to build their experience online. As it so happens, the most successful ones have UX design that the users don’t “see” because they’re too busy being immersed in the overall experience.

From the moment they “step foot” onto your site to the moment they leave, there should be effortless delight at every click and every turn. It’s not any one thing like video or images or witty prose, but it’s every thing in harmonious concert.

How do you know you’ve gotten there? Easy — ask a user what their favorite part of your site is. The answer shouldn’t be any single element like “that video” or “this quiz”. It should be sentiment like “it felt like an escape” or “I felt like I was there” or “I loved the feeling of…”.

Without a question, you should be hearing “feeling” words because fundamentally, that’s what “experience” is all about.

What to see some great examples in action? Take a look at a couple of my favorites:

Mah-za-dahr Bakery

I’m obsessed with a place that I’ve never been to, simply because of how its site grabbed me and drew me in. I dare you to resist these delicious visuals — from the antique silverware to the tantalizing stacks of baked temptations.

NY Times Travel — 52 Places to Go in 2015

The New York Times has been at the forefront of innovating how “old-school” publications can carve out a space among new media. Their Snowfall article in Dec/12 blew people away (myself included) with the seamless and additive way that video was integrated with text.

Continuing along that theme is the stunning recently published 52 Places To Go in 2015. To captivating to be merely called a list, this article (truly, we need another word created to describe this artful fusion) takes you there while simutaneously making you wish you were there.


It’s quite remarkable what Chobani’s been able to build in the past couple of years — basically creating a multi-billion dollar market out of a staid, old staple. And they’ve done it by focusing on assaulting consumers’ every senses. Spicy jalepenos tangle with sweet mango and crunchy granola sits with juicy strawberries…. they’ve made yogurt into a trendy, craveable category. Their SoHo shop just puts the proverbial cherry on top bringing the experience in the aisle and on the screen to life in an impeccable way, down to the glass containers and cheese cloth covers.


Like the NYTimes site, these stills don’t do justice to the actual experience but AirBnB’s mission is to convince people that they can “belong anywhere” and that it’s actually not creepy to stay in someone else’s home while they’re there. In fact it’s noble, romantic and actually quite the neighbourly thing to do. For them, the site experience is critical in convincing people this.

There’s a reason these examples are from the food and travel industries. They both make their bread and butter (pun intended) on superior experiences. So the bar is just as high to convey that on the online medium, as in the offline, even if they have one arm tied behind their back by not being able to rely on senses like taste, smell and touch. But there’s no complaining about this disadvantage, only creativity to overcome it.

So if they can do it, certainly other consumer and e-commerce brands can. Retail online must have the same high bar because the same differentiated, immersive experience must be brought to life, but without the benefit of a 3-D store where one can employ gorgeous window sets and airy scents and upbeat music and exacting merchandising layouts.

In the same way as food and travel, traditional retail has the advantages of being able to bring each of the 5 senses to life in a carefully orchestrated tactile symphony — sights, sounds, touch, scents and even taste in some cases.

But online, you have two, maybe three of these with sight, sound and a sort of virtual touch with certain design elements. So the task similarly becomes how to replicate the same experience created by five, using only three?

Here are a couple of retail examples that manage to pull of this voo-doo math:

Trunk Club

These guys have guys figured out. From masculine visuals to attractive “stylists”, they make the whole shopping process simple, quick and transparent — the key to every guy’s wallet.


The originals of the “things-in-a-box” craze, Birchbox has always understood the importance of experience. From the original boxes of curated samples to the full blown beauty shop to the high quality tutorials, Birchbox is the modern woman’s beauty brand because it’s helpful and delightful in a category notorious for being neither.


A new fav of mine, Aloha knows how to create a tight, integrated experience that all says, “Healthy”. From the brightly coloured brand palette to the beautifully packaged products, this brand makes me want to be a better person. And I forget that I’m dangerously close to buying $89 worth of vitamins.

So what’s the holy grail of customer experience? It’s simple.

Make your consumer forget that they’re online.

Make the bits and bytes disappear so that the user feels like they’re actually interacting with a living, breathing, 3-D thing.

But if knowing that is simple, doing it is an entirely different thing. There are countless elements to consider, depending on your brand (journey mapping and flow and tone and visuals and…) but that’s for another conversation.

For now, the point is, practice trying to disappear. With that magic trick under your belt you’ll find the rest starts to fall into place.

Originally published at on January 14, 2015.

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