What is Design for Delight? UX Question #50

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Jolene from San Diego, California, asks: What is Design for Delight?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Jolene. This is UX Question number 50 and I am Ben Judy.

What is Design for Delight? Well, this is a concept popularized by Intuit. They make financial software including TurboTax and QuickBooks.

Back in 2008, Intuit company leaders deliberately made design thinking central to their growth strategy. They developed a philosophy called Design for Delight or D4D with three pillars:

  • Deep Customer Empathy
  • Go Broad to Go Narrow
  • Rapid Experimentation with Customers

I know D4D well from my time working at Intuit as a senior interaction designer. And there were pros and cons.

Positively, it was awesome to work inside a rare business that was pushing all its chips in on user centered design and prioritizing a design innovation culture.

We had a strong commitment to every employee owning the user experience and everyone got involved in building deep customer empathy. That was really cool.

Inevitably, Design for Delight became a catchphrase and people began repeating it as dogma. I observed instances where people would use D4D to shut down conversation. Someone would ask, “are we going about this the right way?” The only acceptable answer was, “Design for Delight,” and, “design thinking,” and if you said those magic words, you got a free pass to carry on. Even if what you were doing was not smart or user-centered.

But that’s not a problem unique to Intuit, it happens in many corporate cultures. Philosophically, I have one big issue specifically with Design for Delight.

Delight is just one human emotion. As UX designers, we should design for whatever emotion is contextually appropriate. How about when I file with TurboTax and I owe the government $5,000 in unpaid taxes? Do I want the software to try to ‘delight’ me in telling me this?

Another example: I worked on some programs centered on bereavement situations. Providing assistance to people who had recently lost a family member. Designing for ‘delight’ is entirely the wrong tone and the wrong emotion in that circumstance.

This was the lesson I learned from D4D. Design catchphrases or principles, no matter how well intentioned, can easily replace the hard work of true empathy building. This is how we end up with UI design that is a bit too cute, or copy writing that feels weirdly causal or upbeat in moments where the designers should have been more thoughtful and empathetic.

The takeaway is: design with a fully engaged, curious mind and a heart for what’s best for your users situationally—don’t only design for delight.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: How can I start my career in UX design?

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