Climbing the UX Design Success Ladder



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Designing functional or even usable experiences isn’t enough. Sites and software products that deliver value to businesses and end users climb to higher rungs of the Design Success Ladder because they’re comfortable, delightful, and meaningful.

We hosted a DesignTalk with Ward Andrews from Drawbackwards and Design.org, and Ward walked us through the rungs of the ladder and suggested ways to improve user experience in websites and software.

Watch Ward’s full talk below, or read on for our short recap.

All businesses are starting to understand that they need to deliver a great customer and user experience. However, even just recently, many businesses had an industrial-age mindset where they believed as long as the company was efficient, they could succeed. Now, companies must still be efficient, but they’re also competing on new ideals like delight and meaning. 

Ward created the Design Success Ladder to bring a shared understanding and shared language to business when discussing UX. The ladder shows levels of quality for user experience and provides higher levels to aspire to.


The rungs 

The bottom rung of the ladder is when a product is functional. That means the product is okay and works most of the time if you take the time to figure it out.  

A step up from functional is usable. Ward said usable is 100% better than functional. Users can complete tasks without major frustrations.

A step up from usable is comfortable. This can also be called intuitive—things are in the right place.

“Iteration is required for excellence.”

A step up from comfortable is delightful. The product is easy to use and actually surprises users, activating positive emotions.

Finally, the top rung of the ladder is meaningful. This is the Holy Grail of products. They create meaning in users’ lives. They can change not only an individual’s behavior, but also the economy and the world.

The ladder shows that iteration is required for excellence, and the process values prototyping for moving quickly. Ward says the bar is set too low at “usable.” Functional shouldn’t be an acceptable place to end.

To see examples of products moving up the ladder and to learn how you can move your products up the ladder, I encourage you to watch the video above! Or check out all of our other DesignTalks below.

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Margaret Kelsey
Margaret Kelsey leads content marketing at Appcues. Before Appcues, she built content programs for InVision’s design community for 3.5 years and has roots in painting and PR. She’s a big fan of puns, Blackbird Donuts, and Oxford commas—probably in that order.

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