Designing Delightful Business Software

How might we design delight? First, a few principles:

Before we can even think about creating delight, we need to remove frustration.

If a product frustrates or confuses, it needs improvement to meet user’s basic expectations. Only when a product meets expectations and is usable do we have the opportunity to provide value in unexpected ways (to be delightful).

Basic Expectations

I saw Jared Spool speak once, and he outlined the perfect example to describe basic expectations.

Right now I’m staying at a hotel, on the 23rd floor. Inside my hotel room, there is another smaller room. Inside this smaller room, there is a sink, a toilet, and a shower. There are bottles of shampoo and soaps. It’s amazing. I can turn the water on in the shower, and it’s hot instantly. From the 23rd floor!

A bathroom is something that customers expect to be in a hotel. If your hotel room has a bathroom, you’re not surprised. But imagine if it wasn’t there! 😧

Basic expectations are things people have become accustomed to. There’s no added delight from getting it right, but there’s severe frustration from getting them wrong.

Basic expectations are things that can only be messed up.

Something that’s really key to note here is that as markets and technology mature, things that were once delightful surprises will become commodities, and become basic expectations as people become used to them. Just like WiFi on airplanes.

Do you remember the first time you had WiFi on a plane? I do. It was in 2014:

But how about today? Do you remember the last time you tried to connect to wifi on a plane? Was it frustrating? By keeping your finger on the pulse of what customers expect you can make sure to always at least be meeting them in the middle.

For business software, usable is becoming the new basic expectation. Nobody expects to be frustrated.

Trust me, it’s a good thing. Design is becoming more commodified and as a result, people expect stuff to work well as the new baseline. And all that really means is that today we expect software to not suck.

People who use business software are using iPhones at home. They’re used to consumer and social products with cool interactions and clean, simple interfaces that are easy to use in their busy, day-to-day lives. As a result, tolerance for frustrating business software is plummeting.

Usable doesn’t mean it has to be great. It just has to be not frustrating. Focusing on simplicity, clarity, and solving problems for users/customers, you will be able to eschew moments of frustration that may have worked its way into your product/service/experience.

Is it difficult to understand? Confusing? Does it feel like it takes too long? Does it cause hesitation? Is it janky? Is the UI clunky? Does someone (ever) have to think about what to do? Does someone have to teach you how to use it? Is there an explanation for failures?

Maybe it was an oversight, maybe an assumption that was wrong, or an honest mistake—no matter what’s wrong and no matter the cause, by talking with customers and listening to them, you can learn what sucks about a product and fix it.

Okay so, we found the frustrating parts of our software and fixed them up. But how do we make something delightful?

Delight? It’s all about surprise

Delight is a pleasant surprise. Delight is being smiled at by a stranger. Delight is an unexpected act of kindness or politeness. Delight is an unexpected connection.

Getting from usable to delightful is actually very simple in principle. Adding delight is all about exceeding expectations in unexpected ways. Surprise is the key. Why? Because surprise intensifies emotions.

Everybody’s day has ups and downs. But if we try, we can make the good parts into really good parts. The feeling of relief when an app provides unexpected guidance to something that’s typically confusing. The feeling of accomplishment when you finish a complex task or flow. The feeling of joy when you accept a job offer.

By being very thoughtful and finding innovative ways to add value, you can create micro-experiences that make someone smile or inspire them. The place to start? Take some time to really feel what it’s like to use your product, from the perspective of a new customer or user. What are they expecting? How can you exceed their expectations?

Scour your experience for unexpected ways to improve it by going the extra mile.

Have smart defaults that are in people’s best interests and then explain why you suggest that. Teach them something they didn’t know. Give them their money’s worth.

Find small moments of celebration to share:

Mailchimp gives you a high five for sending an email campaign.

Hell, double down on big moments of celebration:

At Gusto, we shower you with confetti if you accept a job offer.

Help people celebrate the wins in their day

What if business software treated you like a trusted associate, a good friend, or even a loved one? It can, and as we move into a future where business software sucks less, software that is delightful will become a competitive advantage.

Thanks for reading!

For more musings on design, follow me on Twitter or say what’s up to the Gusto Design team on Dribbble. Also—we’re hiring!

Lead Product Designer at Amplitude