Geek Culture
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The UI behind Wordle and why it works

Five Letters a Day Makes Incredible UI the Bae

In February 2022, Wordle made headlines by helping save the life of 80-year-old Denyse Holt.

Wordle played a crucial role in saving the life of Holt — an avid fan of the 6-letter word game. Wordle delivered more than was promised in ways the world could have never imagined.

A naked intruder broke into the home of Denyse Holt in Lincolnwood, Illinois, while she was sleeping. He was holding a pair of scissors. According to multiple reports, the man forced her into bed with him and threatened to cut her if she screamed. He then locked her in a bathroom in the basement.

After increasingly becoming alarmed about her whereabouts, her family informed authorities, who rushed to her safety. What led to this quick action was the web-based word game — Wordle. Holt had failed to send that day’s solved word to her family, making them suspicious. It was not like her to miss a single day of Wordle — after all, it’s an addictive and rewarding game.

Authorities entered Holt’s home with a spare key lent by the neighbors and found the victim locked in the bathroom. After an hours-long standoff, the SWAT team used a stun gun to overpower the intruder and arrested him.

But, this wasn’t the first time Wordle made headlines.

Created and developed by software engineer Josh Wardle (yes, Wordle is play on the creator’s last name) for his word-game fan girlfriend, Palak Shah, Wordle was all the world was talking about in early 2022.

Single-handedly, Wardle showed the world how incredible UI can fill a need, connect people all over the world, and what it takes to be the greatest boyfriend that ever lived.

The Big New York Times Buy-Out

In November 2021, Wordle only had 90 daily players. In January, 2022, The New York Times purchased Wordle “in the low seven figures” with the hopes of increasing digital subscriptions to 10 million by 2025.

While it may or may not have propelled digital visibility for The New York Times, Wordle increased its daily user base. According to the New York Times, over 2 million people play it daily. If you haven’t, you should check it out — it might even save your life.

Each player gets six chances to guess the five-letter word for the day. If you enter the correct letter in the right spot, it shows green. If you enter the correct letter in the wrong place, it shows yellow. However, if you’ve entered a letter that doesn’t exist in the word, it shows gray.

So, it’s any other word game. What’s so novel about it?

Oh! But, everything.

For starters, it was built by one person.

· It’s ad-free

· It doesn’t require an app download

· It’s web-based

· It doesn’t bug or distract you with notifications throughout the day

And most importantly, it’s addictive but not in a way that Candy Crush is. There’s only one word for the day. It teaches you patience as you wait for a new word the following day.

It also tracks:

· How many times a user had played the game

· Percentage of wins

· Current and longest streak

· Guess distribution

Wordle isn’t intrusive, and the game’s shareability makes it even more alluring. What makes it a game that will go down the ages is its simplistic UI design — it’s a feat. At a time when we’re actively looking for ways to disengage from reality and partake in a virtual world — even for a little bit, creating a UI as basic as this one was a bold move.

It was either a massive risk Wardle was willing to take, or he knew exactly what he was doing. The interface looks so minimalist — it’s almost barren. Is this why we gravitate more towards it? No pop-ups, no ads on the right side or the bottom. Perhaps, it’s what we ever asked for before the internet relied heavily on ads.

The game doesn’t put any concrete pressure on the user. No one needs to spend any time figuring out the UI. Rather, the user is thrust into the game suddenly. The attention is now only the word. Once complete, the user can share their victory with the world.

It’s a matter of pride. It’s a job well done.

Couldn’t complete the word for the day? You can still share your attempt with the world, have a good laugh about it, and come back the next day to try your hands at it.

This is the true beauty of the game — the refreshing repeatability.

The use of green and yellow encourages the user to continue, and the “winning streak” option makes one want to come back for more. One can finish as soon as they wish to or take the whole day to complete it. By giving this choice to the user, the onus is on them. This is also why it’s so likable.

The Psychology Behind Our Love for Wordle

Is Wordle the greatest game to have ever been created? Not a chance.

Is it the best-looking UI that ever was? Definitely not.

But, it’s popular because people want “in”. They are afraid of missing out on what the world is participating in. It’s a chain reaction. If five of your friends are playing Wordle and sharing their attempts with you every day, wouldn’t you feel at least a little bit curious to give it a shot? It’s because we want to ‘belong’.

Another reason Wordle is such a hit is because we’re competitive. It’s a high we chase. It’s a rush. It’s a guilt-free way of chasing that high without hurting anyone, especially yourself.

A surprising reason that Wordle is popular is its uncertain future. Things are unpredictable in the world of UI, and human beings aren’t the best examples of sticking to one thing. Our attention span is hotly talked about, but there’s never a good thing that’s said about it.

To remain in the now and the present, we play Wordle because we don’t know if it will exist tomorrow.

This is what powerful UI can do. Keep one yearning.

To gauge the level of Wordle’s success, we don’t even need to check the stats or the numbers involved. Would you look at the sheer number of Wordle spin-offs? For Potterheads, there’s Hogwartle; for Taylor Swift fans, there’s Taylordle. For those that like to torture themselves, there’s Absurdle.

Don’t care too much for word games? There’s Primel, in which you must guess the five-digit prime number for the day. Sounds frustrating?

It is.

But, it’s the replicability of the game that makes it so entertaining.

The Biggest Takeaways:

· Good design is as little design as possible (learn Dieter Ram’s other principles of good design too)

· Good design serves a purpose — it must be practical

· Good design should enable shared experiences

· Good design leverages the feel-good factor of winning

· Good design encourages small victories which accumulate into bigger ones

· Good design is universally and easily accessible

· Good design should feel rewarding

Whether you’re one of the 2 million people that play Wordle every day or you’re just about starting out, it’s important to keep an open mind. It’s what good UI design asks for and encourages. For a designer, Wordle can teach many things.

Most importantly, it teaches one that if you want your partner to love you for life, you must build them a word game.

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