issue #5 – delight is a poor UX goal

photographer with pacific ocean, pt. bonita, and sunset

Practitioners of user experience have embraced the word “delight” as a way to explain what they’re aiming for with a design. But there are two problems with that word.

First, delight is a nice emotion, but it’s not the word you’d use for many situations.* If you are telling your friend about a fender-bender you had with your car, you might talk about the resulting insurance claims process as “surprisingly easy.” Delight is not what you are seeking as a part of filing a claim. Nor is it something you seek when being reminded to take medications or when you set up a revocable living trust. Delight is something you aim for in experiences like entertainment, play, or gift-giving. There are lots of other positive words that describe emotions, so when you describe your design goals, use a word that comes from real people.

Second (and more important), the word casts you in the role of the curator or artist rather than the ally of the people you wish to help. If you were to serve a fabulous meal to new guests, would you make all the meal decisions only in terms of what would wow them, with none of their input? Maybe you would if you were a chef who approaches food as “art”–wholly the concept of the creator. People buy your meals at your restaurant for these feelings. But if you’re an organization with products and services designed to support people, such as an insurance company, a library, or a data management company, it’s a big risk to operate like an artist.

Assumptions can lead you astray. Unless you are an artist, don’t treat your job like an artist, putting your ideas out there to elicit a reaction like delight. Instead, try to understand what’s going on in other minds so that you can provide better support for their aims. Which is exactly what problem space research is all about.

*Certainly many roles seek to delight as one of their goals: chefs, jewelry designers, script-writers. Or, the role could be posed as an edge case, like a news agencies such as NPR or The Daily Telegraph, or you cater to fashion like Urban Outfitters or Chanel, you are balanced between creating for delight and creating in support. In some parts of your work, your inspiration for delighting customers comes from within; in other parts, you seek to support people by helping them seem knowledgeable, confident, and well-put-together. Research these latter types of topics.

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