UX Design7 minute read

Meaningful Design and the Art of Delightful UX

Toptalauthors are vetted experts in their fields and write on topics in which they have demonstrated experience. All of our content is peer reviewed and validated by Toptal experts in the same field.

Creating meaningful designs, capturing customer attention, and influencing their behavior is something that designers and marketers will agree is one of the most difficult things to achieve.

Toptalauthors are vetted experts in their fields and write on topics in which they have demonstrated experience. All of our content is peer reviewed and validated by Toptal experts in the same field.
Kaushik Ghosh
Verified Expert in Design

Kaushik is an experienced UX architect and UI designer for many global IT heavyweights, including Microsoft, Intel, Intuit, T-Mobile, Cisco.



Creating meaningful designs, capturing the attention of customers, and—more importantly—influencing their behavior is something that user experience designers, marketers, and product designers will agree is one of the most difficult things to achieve.

Content marketers highlight the importance of engaging customers effectively and getting them through conversion funnels. But what does that mean for UX designers?

How does engagement actually happen? What is necessary to actually bring about a desired change in customer and user behavior? And, possibly the most important question: How do designers create the kind of delightful UX that will get customers talking about their product?

Changing user behavior is not a trivial task. It requires getting customers to take actions they don’t normally take (or at least aren’t expected to take) by modifying the basis on which they act. It requires breaking consumer habits in order to create new ones or otherwise creating a product or service that can become part of a customer’s routine, rather than an aberration.

Changing user behavior through meaningful design

Users Hate Change

People hate change. They crave consistency. In his book Evil by Design, Chris Nodder discusses status quo bias—the tendency for people to want things to stay relatively the same. Most people will view any change from their current situation as a loss, which creates loss aversion. That also causes people to overestimate potential losses from change and underestimate the potential gains—not to mention the fact that they tend to overvalue their current situation (also known as the endowment effect).

UX designers must create optimal conditions to cause a change in user behavior if they want their product or service to succeed. Creating positive emotions around the user’s experience is the best way to create real behavior changes among users. This positive reinforcement—creating consumer delight—is the best way to ensure that users and customers stick around and even promote whatever is being offered.

How Consumer Delight Happens

Knowing that creating delight is the best way to change consumer behavior is only one part of creating delightful UX. The second part is how to actually “create delight.” What causes a user to go from being satisfied with a product to being delighted with it?

Delight primarily arises out of a situation or a particular point in the overall customer journey (e.g., purchase, upgrade or evaluation, etc.) when they are in an emotionally vulnerable position.

For example, imagine this scenario: A customer needs to cancel a flight they’ve booked but will incur a steep penalty since the cancellation window has closed. This induces anxiety. However, there is an unexpected resolution: The airline company informs the customer that the refund amount can be given in full in credit, which can be used for a booking in the future. As a result, the customer is relieved and raves about their experience on social media.

Designing delightful UX to improve the consumer experience

Nir Eyal, author of the book Hooked: How to Build Habit-forming Products, hypothesizes that a product should be designed to facilitate a user’s need but ultimately alleviate a symptom of a problem they have. This creates habit-forming products, which can increase loyalty among customers and therefore create higher customer lifetime value.

BJ Fogg, director of research and design at Stanford University, where he founded the Persuasive Technology Lab, has a model showing the three elements required for any effective behavior change: motivation, triggers, and ability.

BJ Fogg's behavior model---meaningful design and the art of delight

Designing these three things well into a product will create an optimal user experience. Figuring out a user’s motivation, their emotional state, and the behaviors they might exhibit that could betray a problem that needs solving are all important parts of design psychology and creating “delightful UX.”

The UX design process should take into account all the data available and create an experience that will provide an effective trigger for customers. Creating effective calls to action is a mix of art and science and entices users to take an action deemed desirable and beneficial.

How UX Design Hooks Consumers

Designing consumer experiences that reinforce specific behaviors can go a long way toward converting those behaviors into habits. When users are triggered to take a specific action and are then rewarded for that action, it causes them to invest further into that initial trigger, repeating and reinforcing the cycle.

Creating delightful UX in the user journey requires designing an experience that generates positive emotions at multiple points along that journey. There are a few ways to do this, which include incorporating pleasant microinteractions into designs and designing meaning into the overall consumer experience. Using either technique creates delight, but using them together is the kind of one-two punch that can really hook consumers.

Microinteractions for Creating Delightful UX

Microinteractions are an often-overlooked part of UX design. And yet it’s a fantastic way to create delight among customers. Creating unexpected but still useful microinteractions takes a product to the next level.

Mailchimp is an ideal balance of usefulness and delight. It fulfills a fairly technical niche—email marketing and campaign management—one so practical it could theoretically survive with a barebones interface. What makes Mailchimp thrive is its smooth functionality wrapped in cheeky humor and visually friendly design. Mailchimp transforms a dry task into an inviting experience.

Mailchimp has mastered useful but delightful microinteractions

Combining fun cartoons with tongue-in-cheek messages like “This is your moment of glory,” Mailchimp softens the nervousness of sending your first email campaign. The actions and reactions of the interface feel less like an email marketing app and more like an empathetic instructor that understands you.

The humor and mascot are all part of the surface layer of delight. But when we dive deeper, we see that the conversational feedback and effortless task flow helps Mailchimp connect with users on a less tangible level. The product instructs, entertains, and facilitates. As a result, even the most novice email marketer feels like a pro—and that’s a truly unforgettable experience.

Bottom line: Never underestimate the “little things.”

Creating Meaningful User Experiences

Meaningful design and user experiences allow users to build deeper connections with a product or service. Tapping into customer emotions and evoking a positive emotional response to a given trigger is key to creating delightful UX.

And yet, emotion is often added as a superficial layer, or worse: The emotional element gets pushed to later releases to provide a brand makeover. This approach makes delivering deeper-level engagement hard because it separates the “emotional needs” from the functional benefits of the product and therefore fails to create any “meaning.”

In order to delight customers, the real challenge is to be empathetic and pay attention to the details at every step of the consumer’s journey. Every aspect of a customer’s experience has to be holistic, from introductory communications to the purchase flow to the post-sale interaction. Achieving deep empathy with customers can lead designers to discover the purpose—the why rather than what in a product development ideation.

Rather than looking at the specific tasks users want to accomplish, consider the end goal in order to create real meaning. In his book, The Invisible Computer, Donald A. Norman notes: “I don’t want to use a computer. I don’t want to do word processing. I want to write a letter, or find out what the weather will be, or pay a bill, or play a game. I don’t want to use a computer, I want to accomplish something. I want to do something meaningful to me.”

To understand this better, consider this example from the transportation industry: two providers in the same industry, offering similar services, and yet they have taken two entirely distinct approaches. It leaves no doubt as to why touching emotions and creating meaning makes such a big difference.

The first example is for a car service that offers a very functional, barebones user experience.

Paradise Car Service keeps the content straightforward on its website

The second example is Uber, which attempts to instantly connect with customers. The messaging focuses on connecting on an emotional level with prospective customers, conveying that Uber can relieve them of the anxiety of driving, allowing them to focus on what they plan to accomplish that day. It creates a trigger around an easier way of getting around, causing a positive emotional response.

Uber focuses on evoking emotion in its copy and imagery using meaningful design

The first step in creating meaningful design is to take the time to really understand users. That means figuring out what matters to them, what their pain points are, and what kind of product or service could fill those gaps.

It’s important to both interview users and also observe their behavior. What drives designers toward creating a real solution is a deep and full understanding of what people say, do, and feel. Once designers have a firm grasp on these, they can create a solution that fits the problem in the best way possible.

Ideally, user research and testing should occur as early in the design process as possible. Using an empathy map can help designers and product owners identify unarticulated emotional nuances around a problem that can then be used to find solutions with delightful UX.

In the design process, the element of emotion needs to be addressed in a careful and systematic way, rather than as an afterthought. The steps below could be one way of successfully capturing emotion and working with it to a proposition of “delight”:

  1. Identify ownable moments: A detailed analysis of the customer journey can reveal several points when the customer is at an emotionally vulnerable point. They could be frustrated, anxious, elated, or feeling in control. These moments need to be understood deeply. The overall design of the proposed experience should address them and reinforce positive or help overcome negative emotions.
  2. Convey the response to the emotions at the appropriate place and time. An experience that responds to customers emotionally can do so in three ways:
    • Visceral: appearance, visual language, tone, or voice
    • Behavioral: how it works, behaves, or responds
    • Reflective: how it is interpreted or understood
  3. Deliver meaning as an outcome. “Meaning” in this context is a purpose fulfilled or an aspiration actualized. Design for meaning rather than with meaning. Meaning is more powerful than emotions and transcends value.

Creating meaning within delight-driven design is an iterative process that should be based on continuous experimentation and improvement. Early iterations of a product design may not create delight in the way designers hope for, but through user testing and feedback, creating that delight is an achievable goal.

Designs that connect with users on an emotional level are worth the resources involved. They create higher engagement and can cause actual consumer behavior to change. All it takes is a process of awareness and commitment on the part of the design team.

Understanding the basics

  • What is the definition of consumer psychology?

    Consumer psychology, in its most basic form, is the science of why people buy things. Figuring out the underlying motivation and reasoning for consumer purchases is the key focus of psychologists who work in this area.

  • How do you exceed a customer's expectations?

    Exceeding customer expectations requires going above and beyond for your customers. Incorporating delight into your product designs is one way to do this, as is connecting with your customers in a meaningful way and showing customers that you care about them and their business.

  • What are the five basic elements of design?

    The five most basic elements of design include color, line, shape, texture, and size (or mass). There are additional, more advanced elements that include alignment, hierarchy, contrast, repetition, proximity, balance, and space.

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Kaushik Ghosh

Kaushik Ghosh

Verified Expert in Design

Bengaluru, Karnataka, India

Member since December 22, 2015

About the author

Kaushik is an experienced UX architect and UI designer for many global IT heavyweights, including Microsoft, Intel, Intuit, T-Mobile, Cisco.

authors are vetted experts in their fields and write on topics in which they have demonstrated experience. All of our content is peer reviewed and validated by Toptal experts in the same field.



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