how to design a delightful experience

There is a difference between designing an online experience that doesn’t suck and creating one that people will love. Going from just meh to delightful comes down to three layers: pleasure, flow, and meaning.

Words & ideas by Dana Chisnell

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Designing for delight begins with a balance of small pleasures and consideration. People want feel as if they are being paid attention to and that their needs were anticipated. One of the ways to spark this feeling, is making them feel as if they are interacting with a real person. Using an authentic, humourous or even flawed voice can create a small moment of connection, resulting in pleasure.

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ux surface delight

Beyond the basic expectation that a website should be easy to use, people tend to enjoy things that are pleasing to look at, read, and touch.


pixel perfect designs

First impressions count. The immediate visual impact, which is portrayed through a beautiful user interface, is the most obvious technique to use. If something looks pretty, people generally flock to it and entices them enough to go through the entire experience.



Great microcopy, such as a humorous piece of instructional text, can help someone along on their journey. Used with the right tone of voice, it can help break down the barriers that exist between a person and screen.

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Most interactions happen through an interface that are prompted via a keyboard, mouse or touch-screen device. These unique gestures made possible provide a great opportunity to delight through fun interactions and animations.

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measuring pleasure

When measuring pleasure, one of the most important checkboxes to check off should be ‘user smiled’.


Listen to what people are saying as they interact with the website. Exclamations of “Nice!”, “Got it!” or “This is easier than I thought it would be” means you have hit the jackpot.


Facial expressions can also give an indication as to what someone is thinking. Do they have a blank stare or a frustrated frown? Or perhaps the corners of the mouths are turned upwards? If they’re smiling, then it's all good.

speechBubbles Click to go to pleasure conclusion
funny or cute only get you so far

There’s a place for, and many advantages to, creating web designs that are pleasurable to use. They’re perceived as easier, trustworthy and more personal. However, embedding visual treats and trying to be considerate are not always enough to create the engaging experience of being in flow.

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Flow, as a mental state, is often referred to as being “in the zone". During flow, people tend to experience a distorted sense of time, a lack of self-consciousness, and complete engagement in the task at hand. Developers might feel it when they’re writing code, or gamers might feel it when playing Guitar Hero III. For designers, it’s exactly the feeling we hope to promote in the people who use our websites.

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designing for flow

True usability is invisible. Users should be able to interact with the experience without any difficulty.

clear goals

Set clear goals

People don’t just come to your website, and know what to do right away. In most cases, they will need to go through a set of steps leading up to an action. Setting clear goals will help users understand where they are going and each step they will need to get them there.


Provide instant feedback

Providing immediate feedback – whether users click on a button, fill out a form or navigate from one page to another – will tell them how they’re doing, and what’s going on.

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Maximize efficiency

Once users becomes familiar with a website, they’ll want to start using it more efficiently. The website will need to feel more responsive in order for people to get through the experience quickly. Heavily use the key features of your site and eliminate any annoying, repetitive and time-consuming tasks.

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measuring flow

Observing behavior will give the best picture of whether users are in the zone.

Symptoms of flow

  • Users will suddenly stop talking, start humming a tune, or making comments about what they’re doing rather than how they’re doing it.
  • They will be difficult to interrupt or redirect, because they’re deeply focused and concentrating.
  • They’ll report that they felt energized and productive. They might even talk about feeling gratification. Whoa.
thoughtBubbles Click to go to flow conclusion
simple yet complex

The way to make the complex feel painless is to design with flow in mind. By designing a website that is fluid and intuitive, you help new users get up-to-speed quickly, while reducing the chance that existing users leave your site to switch to another. It also creates users that will praise your site to others, which results in more users, increased activity, and greater awareness of your site.

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Meaning comes from a feeling of belonging and contributing. People generally want to feel as if they are involved in something bigger than themselves. As a designer, help people know where they fit in and what their effect is by thinking through exactly what you want the emotional effects to be of using your design.

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types of meaningful experiences

Companies that have a sense of meaning modeled across their business model are generally much more successful.



Achieving goals and making something of oneself; a sense of satisfaction that can result from productivity, focus, talent, or status. Nike relies on the essence of this meaning for many in its “Just Do It” campaign.



A sense of unity with others around us and a general connection with other human beings. Companies who attract and support user communities, embodies specific values tied to their products and services.

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Awe in the presence of a creation beyond one’s understanding. While this might sound unattainable, consider technology companies such as Apple who evokes awe as they enable their customers to do what seemed impossible the year before.

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Measuring meaning
pride & passion

People ‘hunt’ for meaning behind the companies that make products. When they discover it, they soak it in and wear it proudly. When someone is passionate about a product or service, you can hear the delight they have, not just with the product, but with the deep pride they have in being a loyal customer of the company. Building a loyal fan base is the hardest of the approaches for delight, but the most long lasting.

lion Click to go to meaning conclusion
authentic about its intentions

You can’t glue on meaning to a design as an afterthought, it has to come from the business model and not from a tagline. Meaning infuses an organization with intent. Everything about the design needs to echo that intent from mission to fulfillment to culture.

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Functionality and usability should always be the priority in providing the foundations for any interface, but the additional layers of delightful design — pleasure, flow, and meaning — that evokes a pleasing response from and connects with the audience — will always result in a more memorable experience.

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