In Designing for Emotion, Aarron Walter wrote that great websites should not just aim to be usable, they should aspire to be delightful. Delight can be tricky, though. Different things may delight different people. On a recent trip to Disney World with my family, we went with different motivations, and we left with an experience that satisfied all of us. My wife rode roller coasters. My son met his favorite characters. I explored and uncovered hidden gems. Our parents enjoyed amazing food and live entertainment.
Looking at the products that gain traction and outlast competitors, I see a similar trend. These products are built on a multifaceted experience, inviting people with different desires to do what they love most.
Exploring Bartle’s model
In 1996, game designer Richard Bartle wrote a paper titled Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit MUDs, detailing the types of players in online multiplayer games and the motivations that delight them. In it, he described four major subtypes of players: Achievers, Explorers, Killers, and Socializers. Designing games with all four player types in mind makes the game more enticing. This same concept can be adapted to build multifaceted, engaging products.
Bartle’s original model of four character types is built on the four quadrants of an x,y interest graph, with the x-axis representing Players vs. the Game World and the y-axis showing Acting on vs. Interacting with. See the graph below for his original model.
These four facets represent a wide variety of gamers. Achievers strive to seek out the best gear, conquer the game’s hardest levels, and top the rankings. Explorers thrive on mapping out the game world, uncovering hidden details, and understanding the system as a whole. Killers live for the hunt, looking to show their dominance over other players. And socializers love to connect with people, getting to know them and establish relationships.
Adapting Bartle for products
Bartle’s model is well-suited for games. In adapting it for products, I updated the original x- and y-axis and added a third dimension. The x-axis became People vs. System. The y-axis became Creating vs. Using. Finally, I introduced a z-axis to map the depth of engagement, which I’ve labeled Lasting vs. Fleeting. Adding a third dimension introduces four new quadrants, which I think are equally crucial in exploring motivational facets of motivation in modern products. Of Bartle’s original four facets, three can be carried almost directly over into the new model with the fourth, the Killer, becoming the Troll.
The People vs. System axis is a straightforward adaptation of Bartle’s Players vs. World axis. Are users engaging with the product primarily for intrinsic or extrinsic value? Are they interested in using the system for its own inherent value or to connect with other people in meaningful ways?
In Bartle’s model, his y-axis ranged from Acting to Interacting. For products, this translated to users having an active role vs. a passive role. The active role is Creating - using the product to make something. And the passive role is Using - extracting value from the features or content of the product.
In other words, the People vs. System axis denotes who or what users engage with. The Creating vs. Using axis captures how they go about it. In defining a new z-axis, I aimed to understand the depth and context of user engagement. I chose Fleeting vs. Lasting because they can equally describe duration, effort, and impact.
When thinking of these facets, it’s important to avoid thinking of Fleeting vs. Lasting as a measure of value. It seems at first obvious that you would want to focus on Lasting value rather than Fleeting; however, focusing only on interactions that require a lasting effort for a lasting impact would only reward dedicated users. If you want to build a sustainable and scalable platform, you should consider the value of every facet and balance them according to your ultimate goals.
When you combine these three axes together, they help answer the question of why. Why do different people gravitate toward different features? Why do some people prefer this product and others use a different one? Understanding what motivates each facet can help designers build products and communities that are more engaging for every type of user.
And the facets are …
Without further ado, the resulting eight facets are:
- the Achiever: loves completing goals, competing with others, and getting rewards
- the Curator: collects related items and organizes them in unique ways
- the Explorer: uncovers hidden gems, solves puzzles, and maps out systems
- the Itinerant: is always looking for new and unique content
- the Maker: crafts the next big thing for their audience
- the Socialite: connects with others to share their latest find and build their network
- the Tinker: connects systems and data through scripts, APIs, and hacks
- the Troll: causes mayhem and provokes people for fun
Achievers strive for completion; if completion is impossible, then they work at the highest possible “ranking” compared to their fellow users. They love progress bars, high score lists, titles, and accolades. Achievers have a 100% complete LinkedIn profile. They fill the ranks of the Amazon top commenters. They may have a high Klout score. They’re likely to adopt new platforms early to get their preferred name and early adopter benefits. An Achiever may consider purchasing a Pro account simply for the badge or title.
When they have achieved something particularly difficult in a product, they’re more likely to share their achievement with others. Whether competing for mayorship on Foursquare, beating a particularly tough opponent on Words with Friends, or running a faster mile than a friend, Achievers are driven by competition and recognition for their accomplishments.
When designing for Achievers, define clear goals and help them track their progress toward those goals (whether through completion criteria or comparison to others). Provide metrics that measure success publicly and privately, like follower counts, likes, and basic analytics. Achievers also thrive on gamification systems that reward titles, badges, ranks, or other unique distinctions.
The Curator loves making lists, collecting related things, and organizing seemingly disparate entities. The Curator may or may not create new content, but they view the act of creating collections as a creative endeavor. Often the more esoteric the context, the more engaged a Curator becomes in linking together its components. Curators love becoming a trusted source of Itinerants, because it means their curation efforts are valuable.
Curators love Tumblr and Pinterest, creating popular tumblogs like Terrible Real Estate Agent Photos or Rich Kids of Instagram or pinterest boards on their favorite recipes, books, or geeky references. They may use Etsy treasuries to compile their favorite related products, or create Amazon lists to recommend the best sci-fi movies of the 90s. The best Curators love not just compiling the list, but adding their own unique commentary and flavor through descriptions, titles, and tags.
Curators thrive on organization so build features into your product that allow for arbitrary grouping and relationships. If your product is a marketplace or content hub, you can attract Curators by providing internal tools for building and sharing collections, and by adding easily accessible metadata for external list systems as well. Providing consistent high quality images of products will help the Curator create a more visually enticing collection. The best experience for a Curator would be a tool within your product that allows them to group products or content and spice it up with their own commentary. Ideally these curated lists can then be promoted and visible to others as they explore the site.
Explorers love delving into the depths of your product, looking in unexpected places for hidden gems and chance discoveries. They delight in uncovering easter eggs, mapping out the relationships between different parts of your product, and ultimately becoming an expert. They often love helping to guide others, though they may not actively seek opportunities to do so. Explorers love easter eggs, puzzles, scavenger hunts, unique 404 pages, and hidden preferences.
Explorers love the random article link on Wikipedia. They get a kick out of searching for “zerg rush” on Google or “Atari breakout” on Google Images. They may try typing random URLs on your site to uncover either error pages or unexpected content. If they’re experienced developers, they may even view the source on your product to excavate hidden features or comments. They’ll look at settings or preferences to understand what they can do, and try out anything they don’t understand at first glance. Explorers are more likely to click on related content, tags, or navigation to delve further into your site if their first experience is compelling.
Unexpected easter eggs, deeply interwoven content, and hidden functionality are the domain of Explorers. Taking the time to sprinkle easter eggs throughout your product can delight many of your users, but especially Explorers. (Just make sure the foundation of your product gets love and attention too.) Link related content and features in multiple ways so that they are discoverable from different routes. Explorers enjoy finding well-curated content because it often leads them in new directions. Create wayfinding pages or widgets - good directions and architecture helps Explorers map out how your site is structured. Looking at your URL structure, make sure there is an index for each directory hierarchy you nest. Craft error pages and wayfinding pages to be not just functional but delightful.
Itinerants are the silent majority. They’re constantly looking for the Next Big Thing, and your product is only valuable if it helps them either find the Next Big Thing or provides a continual source of nourishment. Itinerants can’t resist a good deal, a new product, or the opportunity to “own” something (whether it’s a physical product, a new piece of information, or a new skill or ability).
Like Achievers, Itinerants often love to acquire badges, ranks, and titles but more for their own enjoyment. Unlike Achievers, they are less likely to invest serious time and effort to earn an achievement, but will consider shorter routes like purchasing. Itinerants regularly check daily deal emails, subscribe to RSS feeds or email newsletters, and will follow almost any link that promises entertainment, education, or enhancement (depending on their other goals and motivations). Itinerants love sites like Groupon, Uncrate, Woot!, Neonmob, and Buzzfeed.
To attract Itinerants, create and highlight new content or features regularly. Provide multiple avenues for them to discover new content, whether externally through email newsletters, Twitter accounts, Pinterest boards, or RSS feeds or internally through related content lists, social or algorithmic recommendation services, or curation. If you can’t create new content regularly, build in mechanisms to link to external content and become a trusted source.
The Maker is either creating products for your marketplace, content within your platform, or building new products on top of your tools. The Maker wants an audience for their idea, and they’ve chosen your tool as their stage. Respect your Makers, and they’ll build great things atop your product. Disrespect them, and they’ll find a new stage.
Makers create physical or digital products to sell on Etsy, Creative Market, Kickstarter, and Shopify. They write posts on Medium, share snippets of their art and design on Dribbble, and create videos for YouTube. Makers write books and sell them through Amazon. They build new apps that hook into your public API to create compelling new functionality. Makers write glowing and scathing product reviews. Whether they’re selling their craft or giving it away for free, every Maker is looking for an audience to enjoy their work.
No platform (short of the web itself) is perfect for every type of Maker. Know the type of Makers you want to attract and build tools for them to craft their work. Help connect Makers to an audience that will appreciate their work. Boost your best Makers by highlighting their work regularly, and encourage less experienced or skilled Makers with training and tools.
Socialites thrive on interacting with other people. Their first instinct on any product is to connect with people they know and people who interest them. They follow, like, comment, and chat whenever the opportunity presents itself. When discovering new content, products, or features, their first instinct is to share them on their chosen social network(s). That they enjoy connecting with people does not mean they have inherently larger social networks, just that they’re more active in them.
Socialites are more likely to prefer creating accounts on new products that authenticate against their Facebook or Twitter account in the hopes that it will automatically connect them with friends on the new service. They will often seek out new people to follow before delving into other features. Highlighting tastemakers and popular users early will help them get more involved.
For Socialites, your product is merely another tool for connecting with people, learning about them, and communicating with them. Providing mechanics to connect with other people will create a welcoming environment for socialites, whether that’s following people directly, leaving comments or direct messages, or even something as simple as liking, recommending, or sharing content. Make sure to use proper social metadata like OpenGraph and Twitter Cards so that socialites sharing your content will send your best foot forward to their network. Attracting Socialite Explorers in particular is a great way to gain traction and spread your product far and wide.
The Tinker is a Maker with an audience of one, themselves. Tinkers love building things as much as Makers, but are satisfied building things for their own use rather than for others. Their creations are often quick hacks suited to their exact needs. They may spend as much time crafting their work as Makers, but take more pride in the elegance of the solution than in the amount of praise or attention it receives. Tinkers connect systems and data in powerful new ways, often for the purpose of automating or simplifying things for themselves.
Tinkers, like Itinerants, often enjoy discovering new products and gadgets, especially if they offer new hooks for their creativity. Like Explorers, they love to delve deeply into products and understand them at a systemic level in order to make more effective use of the data or APIs those systems offer. If a new tool comes along with better data or APIs, Tinkers are often quick to jump ship and modify their existing creations. Tinkers may or may not share their tools as open source projects on GitHub, browser extensions, Greasemonkey scripts, IFTTT recipes, or even through blog posts. In these cases, their intent is often less about finding an audience to consume their idea, and more about enticing other Tinkers to help them improve upon it. Tinker creations are often brilliant ideas for new features of your product, but may require adjustment to work for everyone.
To entice Tinkers to your product, provide public APIs and good documentation. Make your content available through easily consumable feeds. Make sure your APIs provide both input and output options, and that you adhere to Postel’s law. (“Be conservative in what you send, be liberal in what you accept.”) Tinkers hate few things more than walled gardens that only take data and don’t share it. They may still use walled APIs to input data, but they will do so begrudgingly and always with an eye for better options.
Trolls like to think of themselves as creatures of legend, striking from the dark and instilling fear in the hearts of common men. Mostly though, they are just a common annoyance lurking under the bridges of commerce and communication, waiting for weak prey to trick, swindle, or bully. Unmoderated comment fields are their domain, with occasional forays into loosely policed social networks.
That said, they deserve consideration when building your experience. Their best contributions include the proliferation of many memes, well-timed wry comments (often at the expense of rival Trolls), and some of the best reviews ever on Amazon. If nothing else, when building your product, considering how a Troll might pervert the noblest intentions of each feature will help you build a better experience for everyone else.
Pulling it all together
While you can certainly build a compelling product that appeals to just one of these facets (see IFTTT for tinkers), successful products often have features that appeal to most or all of the facets in varying levels. Let’s take a look at a site that does this well:
With its tagline of “Show and tell for designers”, Dribbble is tailored to attract Makers and Socialites first and foremost. But they offer plenty of tools to delight other facets as well.
- Achievers can rack up followers, track views and likes on individual shots, compete for prizes in Playoffs, or subscribe to a Pro account for a badge and detailed analytics.
- There’s always something new for Itinerants to see on Dribbble - if the people they follow haven’t updated recently, they can view recent and popular shots from others. Dribbble is also a great way to discover new products and sites before they launch; designers will frequently post shots to tease or announce new products.
- Curators can build Buckets, adding individual shots from multiple designers to an ever-growing list with their own title and description; they can also create Projects that curate their own creations into neatly packaged bundles with additional comments.
- Explorers can get lost for days delving into tags, browsing by specific colors, or exploring projects, buckets, or specific designer profiles.
- Makers are easily the primary audience, posting screenshots of their work-in-progress and using Dribbble to tease and promote new things they’ve created. Dribbble even provides tools to buy products directly from a shot. In addition, Dribbble provides a pretty decent API for creating new apps and tools building on the capabilities of the platform.
- Dribbble offers multiple avenues for Socialites to connect. They can follow other designers, comment on and like individual shots, or crash one of the in-person meetups that Dribbble frequently hosts. When Socialites find shots they particularly like, they can share them easily with others via quick sharing links.
- Like Makers, Tinkers can engage with the API to pull their own (or other) posts from Dribbble into other systems. In addition, Tinkers can suggest changes or build on ideas from shots in a unique feature called the Rebound, which ties a new shot to an old one through the comment system.
- Dribbble uses several different tactics to limit the damage that Trolls can do. First and foremost, while anyone can join and comment, only players who have been recruited by an existing member can post new shots. This puts some of the responsibility on existing members to recruit quality participants. There are “Report abuse” links on every shot to help the community police itself. And finally over time an established norm of uplifting responses has been encouraged by both the moderators and the community as a whole.
How to use these in your own work
Dan Cederholm probably didn’t design Dribbble with these eight facets in mind. You don’t have to know them or address them directly to build a multifaceted experience. But, like understanding other kinds of social and motivational psychology, these can inform your design process and open up opportunities to think about new and existing features differently.
Here are some ways to use these facets:
- Inform discovery and user research by exploring specific facets in surveys, usability testing, and other user research.
- Refer to them in your personas, to better flesh out the motivations and delighters for specific personas.
- Weigh new features by how many and which facets they may appeal to. Lacking things that appeal to a specific facet? Maybe it’s time to build some.
- Consider them in design studios or brainstorming sessions to think of new ways to solve problems.
- Understand your own and your teams’ motivational facets to shine light on your biases and create more broadly engaging experiences.
- use these facets in lieu of research with actual or potential users.
- use these in place of personas.
- use these to blindly justify adding or removing functionality.
- think of them as final and immutable. There may be other motivational facets that make sense for your audience.
These eight facets represent a broad swath of potential user motivations and activity. Understanding them and creating opportunities for each of them can lead to better multifaceted experiences that delight more of your users. Your product doesn’t have to deliver deep functionality for every single facet; in fact, you could choose to build a tool focused on just a single facet and be quite successful. However, these can be a powerful tool in understanding your audience and building delightful and engaging products for them.