How Good Design Can Make or Break a Product

By Chris Mills on at

Slack, a humble workplace messaging service, has become something of an internet phenomenon: a chat program worth £1.84 billion, which has otherwise well-educated humans foaming at the mouth, salivating over how much fun talking to coworkers can be. And, as one of its architects explains, a lot of that is down to the sassy design.

Over on Medium there’s an interesting explanation of Slack’s otherwise bizarre success. It comes from Andrew Wilkinson, the founder of the design agency that actually built Slack. As he explains, Slack doesn’t do anything fundamentally different from programmes that came before it, like Campfire or HipChat: you talk to people, either as individuals, or as specific groups.

But what makes Slack different — and is the key to its internet-dominating success — are the inbuilt quirks and the sassy design:

Most enterprise software looks like a cheap 70’s prom suit — muted blues and greys everywhere — so, starting with the logo, we made Slack look like a confetti cannon had gone off. Electric blue, yellows, purples, and greens all over. We gave it the colour scheme of a video game, not an enterprise collaboration product.

As Wilkinson points out, Slack’s greatest features are the ones the users probably didn’t notice. Gizmodo US uses Slack to coordinate day-to-day, but I’ve never consciously noticed these little details:

The logo animates in a burst of colours as it loads; modals slide down from the top of the screen; changing teams flips the screen around like a deck of cards. Throughout the entire product, everything seems to playfully jump around and pop off the screen. Each of these interactions is designed not only to help the user understand what’s going on, but put a little smile on their face.

It’s something I’ve started to notice when I’m explaining Slack to non-Slackers. I start listing Slack’s features — existence of channels, direct messages, notifications — before realising that I’m describing any other messaging system. I end up resorting to the same excuses you use to explain an inside joke: “You just have to be there. It’s hilarious. You should move your company onto Slack.”

Wilkinson’s account is a concise example of how the little design details — the stuff product managers all-too-often ignore and farm out to some copywriter off Craigslist — make the difference between a market leader, or just another copycat. [Medium]

Image credit: Andrew Wilkinson

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