Why Slack Is Worth $2.8B: Its User Experience Makes People Care

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Business & Culture / UX Design

“A central thesis is that all products are asking things of their customers: to do things in a certain way, to think of themselves in a certain way — and usually that means changing what one does or how one does it; it often means changing how one thinks of oneself.”

We often forget that we ask a lot from people who use our products. Whatever we design is asking users to do things our way. And it’s so easy to assume they care about the product as much as we do. For someone trying our products for the first time, they’re usually skeptical, and they aren’t yet convinced why they should spend any more time caring about it.

The quote above comes from Stuart Butterfield, who wrote a Medium post, “We Don’t Sell Saddles Here.” He is also the president and co-founder of Slack. What I admire about Slack echoes what everyone else has been saying: it’s actually fun to use. More than that, what makes the product successful is Butterfield’s drive to answer this question: Who do we want our customers to become? His answer is worth $2.8 billion dollars.

Like an investment thesis, Butterfield holds his own: make the product worth using by creating a reward big enough and execute it really, really good. He says that the reward is best thought of as the future version of themselves that users aspire to become.

So what does “really, really good” look like? It’s usually the little things: having an interface that makes sense to users; being able to predict what will happen when they click on a button; getting enough feedback to know whether an action was successful; and making sure the link seems clickable and it actually works. This is the domain user experience designers work in.

“Every bit of grace, refinement, and thoughtfulness on our part will pull people along. Every petty irritation will stop them and give the impression that it is not worth it.”Stuart Butterfield, President & Co-founder of Slack

The funny thing is, Slack is not all that different from other chat apps. But as the founder of MetaLab (which helped design Slack) described, there isn’t really a secret sauce, per se. Similar apps like Campfire and HipChat are fully capable of building the same features. They all have the right ingredients. It’s a reminder that how you combine these ingredients makes a product look, feel, and sound different. And it’s a winning difference that led to a $2.8 billion dollar valuation.

“Like a well-built home, great software focuses on giving its users hundreds of small, satisfying interactions. A great transition in a mobile app gives us the same feeling we get from using a well-made door handle on a solid oak door — you may not be able to put your finger on it, but man, does the house ever feel well built.”Andrew Wilkinson, Founder of MetaLab

The point of this post isn’t to analyze what Slack has done right compared to other products. What Slack has achieved so far with its colorful interface, delightful interactions, and friendly copy is beyond just outstanding user experience. The point is that it made people care.

The ingredients coalesced to form an irresistible personality that people can’t get enough of and want to share. An emotional connection makes your product matter to your users, and it shouldn’t be underestimated.

We have to remember that none of these ingredients work alone; they work in tandem to produce a experience greater than sum of its parts. Like a well-run restaurant, every element works together to create a memorable experience. It doesn’t matter if you are the manager, the waiter, the host, or the busboy. It’s everyone’s job to make sure all the pieces fall in line no matter your role or title.

The field of user experience design encompasses a variety of people and roles, and we need to work together to create great products. There is no hierarchy or significance in the role you play; no one is more important than the other. When we squarely focus on the people who use our product, all that melts away. As Butterfield said, everyone should either make the experience better for users, help them understand the product, or help the product team understand the people they serve.

I’ll leave you with my favorite quote from his Medium post:

“Life is too short to do mediocre work and it is definitely too short to build shitty things.”

The Author

Clem Auyeung is a content designer based in Washington, D.C.

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