Great Books. Shawn Blanc: Delight is in the Details

Published November 15, 2013 by Jane Portman

Author: Shawn Blanc

Book Title: Delight is in the Details

User Experience

Initially I was very impressed with book’s aesthetics and was merely hoping to have a beautiful read on my iPad, stealing time between other everyday activities. Yet I’m very glad I decided to go with the full audio version — it gave me hours of extra joy while driving.

As compared to other books, Shawn starts with adding the delightful details even when “packaging” is concerned — the book is distributed in multiple formats, accompanied by detailed (illustrated!) instructions. I didn’t explore any of the formats besides audio and PDF, but somehow I’m sure all versions of the book are carefully crafted and thoroughly tested.

Audio Version

When I loaded the first track, I was instantly charmed by the author’s pleasant voice and high audio quality. Then I listened to the publishing story: how Shawn recorded the podcasts, transcribed them, then reassembled them into a book and did the final recording again. That really made a great impression and resulted in my respect for his upcoming content.

Layout Aesthetics

I bought and read this book after finishing Mastering App Presentation. Therefore it didn’t have a chance to influence my own publishing decisions. But I was amazed at how the author’s sense of design complied with my own understanding of a beautiful product.

The layout of the book is simple yet tasteful. The font treatment, particularly for the title pages and the quotations, is fantastic.

When I decided on simple black titles for my own book, I was surprised that I haven’t yet come across a similar design solution, though it seems to be a very obvious choice. Your own product is a great place to exercise true minimalism, when there isn’t a whole marketing crew lurking behind your back. And here it was, another example of “simple black” for the book layout. A very, very tasteful implementation of this simple idea.

Guest Interviews

Shawn packs the book with a set of special audio interviews. He discusses major book topics with eight very interesting personas, including Marco Arment and Cameron Moll, to name a few. Their background, expertise, and opinions are quite diverse. This provides a nice multi-faceted view on all the issues and adds a few extra hours to the delightful audio experience.

Book Agenda

In my opinion, the book covers three major points.

Delightful Details

Small delightful details may go unnoticed by a major part of the audience, but they come together to create great user experience which differentiates an outstanding product from an ordinary one. Delightful details create indefinite value for a product.

Shawn does great work at classifying and explaining the three areas of design (how it looks, how it responds, how it behaves), and what delightful design should actually provide (empathy, surprise, and clarity). He also supplies great examples, some from real life experience, and some from the world of software development.

He refers to delightful details as “sprinkles on the cupcake,” which might not make a functional difference, but create a huge difference in product perception.

“Adding in these little delightful elements — these sprinkles on the cupcake — actually increases the usability of our products and our services. Not in a raw functionality type of way, but in a user engagement type of way.”

Shipping Delightful Products

In order to ship something, you first decide on the quality level where you stop iterating and deliver the results. Striving for delight means setting this standard very high compared to others. That also means putting in additional resources for polishing your product, which is always at odds with the business reality.

“Being part of an in-house design team can often crush you. It can crush you through the feeling that there’s never enough time to do the project right. Or that you’ll never get ahead of the tidal wave of incoming projects.”

As a very detail-oriented person, almost every word resonated with my own perception of the work process. For several years I worked as a creative director at a large digital agency, with multiple clients and ongoing projects. Each day became an endless battle between product quality and liability to ship. It’s very hard to find a compromise between the desired perfection and the economic reality of any software business — approaching deadlines, opinionated clients, and limited staff resources.

These battles easily exhaust all creative energy, and make it hard to carry on. In my case we did our best to streamline development processes by creating reusable in-house solutions. Sweating the details on the first implementation worked towards the desired delightful UX. And we could customize it later with fewer resources and be confident the quality didn’t suffer.

Now that I finally made a choice towards working independently, I can take my personal responsibility (as well as additional time and effort) to deliver products and services that are delightful according to my own quality standards. I’m sure it’s well worth any economic risk.

Breaking Through the Talent Ceiling

A large part of the book is devoted to self-development. Shawn explains the Impostor Syndrome and the Talent Ceiling, and gives effective practical advice on how to deal with these issues. I’m not going to list anything here — just get the book and read it yourself.

“The path to success (both in our career and in accomplishing our life goals) is rarely glamorous. It is mundane, difficult, tedious, sometimes boring, and takes much repetition. Underachievers will waste their time daydreaming about when their big break will come while they procrastinate doing work they don’t see as important.

Meanwhile, true achievers will do the work, day in and day out, with vision and strategy. I once read that successful people don’t work harder than unsuccessful people; they work much, much, much harder.”


Shawn Blanc proves his point of view immediately by creating a delightful user experience for the reader in Delight is in the Details. The book is aesthetically pleasing and incredibly inspiring. I highly recommend it to any creative professional.

Want more content like this in your inbox?

Join 8,000 awesome people on my mailing list — SaaS founders, product managers, designers & developers who are business-driven and want to build better software.