Incorporating the WOW! factor into software products can be a challenge for most of us. We work hard to get it; more than that, we struggle to articulate to stakeholders about how we’ll get the WOW! into the product.

As user experience designers, we get to hear the “wow” word just about every day. Many times we’re asked to improve the WOW! factor or to bring in the missing “WOW.”

One definition for WOW! is that it’s a set of properties belonging to an object that pleasantly surprises the user. Having an understanding of user psychology is the initial requirement in order to anticipate and incorporate those features that will pleasantly surprise the user and generate the WOW!

To help put structure around incorporating the WOW! factor in products, let’s examine Jesse James Garrett’s user experience diagram regarding the Elements of User Experience and how we can use this approach to systematically create the WOW! factor.

As UX designers start working on translating the abstract desires of users into concrete elements on the screen, they move back and forth through the Garrett’s five layers (from the abstract to the concrete):
1. Understanding the strategy behind creating the product (what the business wants from the product and what users want)
2. Articulating the features and specifications of the product that will help achieve that strategy
3. Designing the information architecture and interaction that will help achieve the features
4. Creating the right layout to facilitate the interaction design
5. Creating the visual aspect that users will notice first; the sensory design. Here, content, functionality and aesthetics merge to produce a finished design that pleases the senses while fulfilling all the goals of the other four planes

When we are able to systematically incorporate pleasant surprise(s) at each of the five layers, then the overall WOW! quotient of the product increases dramatically.

Next let’s look at the sequence in which a user perceives the experience in a WOW! product (which by the way isn’t the same sequence designers use to create the UX):
1. The first WOW! has to be at the Strategy Layer: This is where the irresistible desire to own the product has to be generated. One way to achieve this is to pleasantly surprise the user by providing something that will solve his or her problems or fulfill his or her needs, (which sometimes even they may have not been aware of). For example, having an app that lets you point your phone to the sky and get the name of a star has a WOW! factor.
2. WOW! at first sight: This WOW! is experienced right from the moment the user sees the product. It looks supercool or grand… or is something the user hasn’t ever seen before or expected to see. They fall in love at first sight and get WOW!-struck.
3. The overall form of the product: The newer ways in which the form of the product manifests and presents itself and facilitates the user to achieve his/her objectives creates the next layer of WOW!
4. Interaction and Information: This is where the user becomes aware of the interesting relationship between the individual components that make up the product. New ways to interact, new UI Patterns, supercool information design and novel way-finding are the next layer of WOW!
5. Features of the product: Creating pleasant surprises here multiplies the WOW! factor. Users flaunt the features of the product with family, friends and colleagues, and they feel proud of the app they have. “See? You can do this” is the most often heard expression at this layer.

This is a great way to explain the thought process behind creating a WOW! product. While presenting a design, the designer can take up each layer one by one and explain to the stakeholders how he has solved problems/issues while at the same time creating pleasing user experiences at each of these layers, from strategy to surface.

Of course, having a deep understanding of user psychology and contextual studies is critical when it comes to figuring out what would surprise the user in the most pleasing way. But this structure will help designers reduce the struggle in creating the WOW! factor. All the initial user research that is done will prove invaluable in better understanding which problems should be solved and what will evoke the right sentiment in the context of the product. A general rule of thumb is that the bigger the problem solved, the greater the WOW! will be.

As a part of the design process, deliberate efforts in creating WOW! should start in the requirement phase itself. Designers doing contextual enquiry should have a focus on what will be a pleasant surprise for the user. Personas are great tools to create a narrative on the problems and pain points of the users along with their goals. This should be followed by scenarios that describe how the product solves the problems of the persona in a way that pleasantly surprises him or her.

Showcasing these personas and scenarios to stakeholders creates a WOW! by itself with the clients. It also helps in consensus building that is so critical to the success of the designer-client relationship.

Nitin Urdhwareshe is AVP and Head of the User Experience Practice at Persistent Systems, a global software product development and technical services company.