UI17: Three Levels of Happy Design

by November 6, 2012

In her The Three Levels of Happy Design talk at User Interface 17 in Boston, MA Dana Chisnell discussed how designers can move from eliminating frustration in products to creating delight. Here's my notes from her talk:

We are really good at eliminating frustration on Web sites but we’re not great at moving to the next level: creating delight for our customers. Going from usable to delightful comes down to three elements: pleasure, flow, and meaning. These are not sequential but intermingled states.


  • A pleasurable interface: shows consideration, anticipates people’s needs, is responsive to context, and uses visuals and voice to create a “feeling”.
  • Being aware of the user and inserting bits of thoughtfulness into an interface can create more pleasure for users.
  • How do you know if you have designed for pleasure? You can’t do A/B testing to see. You have to observe people first hand: are they smiling, exclaiming, or behaving with infatuation?
  • Be cautious of habituation, distraction, disruption, and don’t force it. Habituation: decrease in response after repeated exposure. Distraction: taking attention away from key tasks or info. Disruption: getting in people’s way as they are trying to get things done. Don’t force it: people can tell when you are trying way to hard.
  • Pleasure anticipates needs and produces a positive effect often through visual design and voice.


  • Flow is about true usability. It is immersive, empowering, and plays on people’s mastery and control of subjects or tasks not tools. Flow allows people to be completely productive. Subtle motivation, behavioral, and social cues can help reinforce the notion of flow.
  • Support serendipity: make tangents useful and meaningful to feed people’s curiosity.
  • Designing for flow: Affordances and feedback need to be clear, obvious and invisible. Information architecture needs to match people’s mental models. There needs to be a perception of responsiveness. Clutter needs to be minimized. The interface needs to be appropriate for the context of use.
  • Evidence of flow: people are thankful, time passes quickly without them noticing, and in the end they feel like they accomplished something.
  • Be mindful that flow could register as engagement or frustration in analytics data. User control is key to making flow work.
  • Assessing flow: when using this, how aware do you feel? Can you accomplish new things with it? How much does it expand your capabilities?
  • Flow is immersive, frictionless, and makes use of subtlety in design.


  • Companies focused on meaning are flourishing because they have a sense of purpose. There’s an understandable intent that is modeled across the full experience. Meaning has to be conveyed with clarity and simplicity so people move in the direction you want without feeling like you are controlling them.
  • Work toward creating meaning by rewarding and acknowledging effort by people. Reward involvement through loyalty and support that makes people feel like they belong.
  • Designing for meaning: effort is encouraged and rewarded, site & interactions feel secure and safe, branding is authentic.
  • Evidence of meaning: people feel connected, yet selfless. Meaning creates true engagement through a devoted and compassionate audience.
  • You can’t glue on meaning, it has to come from inside. It must come from the business model out. Not from a tagline.
  • Meaning is infusing an organization with intent. Everything about the design needs to echo that intent from mission to fulfillment to culture.