Design / UX: Customer Delight — The True Meaning (It’s not cool animations)

Jamal Nichols
Feb 26 · 5 min read

Video version of this article:

The term “Customer Delight” is being thrown around a lot lately. The little apps you’re making are to be “usable, useful, beautiful and delightful” or some crap like that. But what does delight even mean?

Why it matters

A lot of posts on this subject are misleading you into thinking that delight means adding cute little animations or fun little notifications written in a casual style to your app. Seriously? Are designers that delusional?! You think some mom with two kids will clap her hands in delight at your little microinteraction?

“Hold on honey, I just need to be delighted some more by the gorgeous animations in this app”

The truth about design is that no one cares about your little animations or your notifications written like “Hey man great to have you”. That stuff only impresses other designers. It doesn’t impress the good designers unless the fundamentals of the design are strong. People have things to do. That app you spent the last 6 months designing, is just 30 seconds of their life that they are using to accomplish a specific task.

But there is such a thing as creating delight for the people you’re serving: You do it by making them feel as if you understand them better than they understand themselves.

How To Create True Delight

I remember when Heinz first released this new ketchup bottle. It was a goddamn revolution. Why? Because everyone was putting the bottle upside down in their fridge anyway, to get that last bit of ketchup out. Heinz took notice and designed a new bottle that accommodated this behavior. This new bottle design gave you a feeling of “Oh my god, this is exactly what I’ve been searching for all my life”. It solved a small but persistent problem that people had, it made people’s lives clearly better, and did it in a way that didn’t require any change in their behavior. That is the path to true delight: listening closely to your customers and using your insights to make their lives 10x better — even if it’s just a very small part of their lives.

You create true delight by being thoughtful, not by trying to impress

You see that kind of thoughtfulness a lot in high-end experiences. When you take a first class flight on an airline, you don’t just get a nicer seat — everything that’s annoying about flying is removed from the experience. You don’t need to stand in line, you don’t need to check your bags, you don’t need to walk to the terminal, and you don’t need to wait in cramped seats in an overcrowded waiting room. If you stay at a high-end hotel, they come by in the early evening to make your bed, close the curtains and turn on nice calming music on the radio, so you come back to a nice oasis after a long day of exploring.

We often dismiss that kind of treatment as something for rich douchebags — in part, because it is a bit over the top, and in part (probably) because we are jealous that we can’t afford it. But what you can’t deny is that those experiences are thoughtfully designed from end-to-end. A big part of doing great design is to bring that kind of thoughtfulness to a broader audience. That was the whole idea of design in the 20th century: to use new production methods as a means to improve the standard of living for all. That’s what drove designers like Raymond Loewy and Dieter Rams. (In the 21st century, we also have to think about sustainability and interconnectedness of products and services we use, but that’s a topic for another time.)

Rather than focusing on interface polish, put in extra effort to learn about the people you’re designing for.

How do I apply this as a digital designer?

You can apply this to your digital products as well: rather than focusing on interface polish, put in extra effort to learn about the people you’re designing for. Especially important is to learn about their goals: what are they trying to accomplish by using the thing you’re making? If you can make it incredibly easy and straightforward for them to accomplish their goals, they will love you and come back — even if you don’t have cute little micro-interactions.

Delightful experiences are humble

Designers often don’t see the work they do within the context of a customer’s entire life. To the designer, this product they are making is the primary focus of their attention for months. But to the consumer, it’s just a few seconds out of their day. They just don’t care about it as much as you do. They are trying to get something specific done and hope that the tool you’re making will help them get it done faster than other tools. You need to design your solutions around that. Doing this gives your work a sense of humility and groundedness.

I’m not saying that you should avoid adding any kind of extraneous visual details. But every element you add to your design should be added with the purpose of making people accomplish their tasks more effectively. There’s a way of adding visual flourish and having it improve the usability. A List Apart has a great post on how to use animations to improve usability.

Share your story

What are some examples of products that have truly delighted you? Share them with us in the comments.

Truth About Design

Candid truth and guidance for the design industry

Jamal Nichols

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German-American design expert. Founder of

Truth About Design

Candid truth and guidance for the design industry

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