The spreadsheet may be the symbol of productivity in the world of business, but cold, hard numbers don’t tell the whole story. How were those quarterly results and shareholder dividends achieved? With engaged users and efficient workflows.
Knowledge workers may perform repetitive tasks many times a day with software they use because they have to, not because they choose to. As designers, we can make their work easier and more enjoyable by adding flair to surprise and delight them. That should matter to businesses because when users are delighted, they connect emotionally to their company’s culture.
Engagement is better and frustration is reduced. That’s good for business.
How Delight Became the Default Demand
This concept of emotion became meaningful in the business world when consumer electronics were widely adopted. Users began to have expectations about how they wanted to interact with devices and software in their personal lives, and that leaked into their professional lives: if managing the family budget was enjoyable on a device, why shouldn’t managing the department budget be enjoyable, too? Enterprise software began to look stale next to mobile apps with bright colors, big buttons, and streamlined workflows. Users were no longer happy with older systems that required a thousand clicks to complete a task, and the work of UX designers became more conceptual.
Hurdles to Happiness
Making those older systems evoke emotion is a challenge. They were usually organized around functions; the relationships between tasks were prioritized over the way people work in the real world. The element of fluidity, in which the user clicks and swipes without conscious thought, wasn’t in the DNA of legacy software. Because fluidity can’t be bolted on and micro-delights can’t be popped into a program at random, incorporating these things requires a rethinking of the entire UX from the ground up.
That raises another problem, one well-known to every designer who’s worked on a big overhaul: user resistance. People like to do things the way they already know, even if that way isn’t the best. Users are highly conscious of the time they’ve invested in learning a new software program, many lack confidence in their ability to learn new workflows, and some are simply too busy to be bothered. The only way for designers to overcome these hurdles is to find the balance between the new and the old.
The Designer as Anthropologist
Designers can evoke emotion by getting away from thinking about the design of the software and its features. Instead, focus on the user journey. That may sound like obvious advice to give people whose job titles include the words user experience, but maintaining a fresh perspective on products we may have been looking at for months or even years can be a serious challenge.
To reliably deliver a delightful experience, a designer has to become an astute observer, understanding what people want, as well as what they don’t yet know they want — but you know they will love. Here are four tips my team and I always keep in mind.
Identify the artifact
Instead of starting a new UX project with screens and drawings, take a step back, understand what the user is trying to achieve, and work back from there. Identity the artifact coming out of a specific workflow and design to get users to that artifact as quickly as possible, keeping the sharp edges to a realistic minimum.
Study users, not software
Take an anthropological approach, sitting with people to see how they interact with a system over time. Look at what’s on their desk, which other apps they have open, and how they multi-task. When you understand the interconnected parts of a person’s day, you can better balance the approach to design.
Make business personal
A designer doesn’t only work with systems. For example, we’ve spent a lot of time examining how people want to use electronic signatures. Traditionally, signatures carry a lot of emotion, and we want to carry that through to the digital world. To that end, we’re not just thinking about the limited problem of how users can implement electronic signatures; instead, we’re thinking about how we can make e-signatures fulfill all the functions and carry all the weight of a signature made by hand with a pen. We asked ourselves questions about how people feel about their signatures, the differences between signing a birthday card and a tax return, and the relationship between a signature and a promise, among others.
The conclusions we arrived at drove the UX. It would have been a lot easier to get some details from the engineering team and design the shortest route to rolling out a signing function, but that would have shortchanged the users. They want to feel connected to the tasks they perform.
Design an end-to-end experience
The modern workforce isn’t sitting at a desk with a monitor full time; no one is tethered to an older system now because they come along with us in our pockets. People expect the ability to do their work wherever they are, picking up on their phone where they left off on their laptop and then continuing later on their desktop. Users expect the same experience, including features and functions, on all screens, small or large, so design an end-to-end journey. This includes all screens and all contexts, so mobile experiences aren’t designed in a vacuum but alongside and parallel to the desktop- and services-based experiences.
Dear User: We’re Listening
UX efforts fall into two categories. The first is the new delights. The second is what I like to call the Just Do It — the thousand paper cuts that bug you, those little weaknesses that hide in crevices and are so hard to find time to go back and fix.
While the boundaries between new delights and Just Do Its are clear to designers, users have a different view. When we’ve done releases that only included the Just Do It fixes, users have responded with delight.
The lesson we’ve learned is that delight doesn’t have to be the halftime show at the Super Bowl. It’s anything that evokes a smile and compels someone to say, “That’s exactly what I needed.”