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What's the secret sauce behind the amazing design of Slack? A Medium post by Andrew Wilkinson of MetaLab, who designed the app...


secret sauce slack design medium MetaLabs Andrew Wilkinson Stewart Butterfield

Read the article here: https:[email protected]/slack-s-2-8-billion-dollar-secret-sauce-5c5ec7117908

I found this article through Evelyn Rusli: https://twitter.com/evelynrusli/status/594486351036297218

It takes a village: https://twitter.com/awilkinson/status/594943210121756674

Will quote my favorite parts below.

Stashed in: Design!, @evelynrusli, Awesome, Medium, Mobile Dev!, Black Swans!

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The initial prototype of Slack was a fugly hacky IRC ripoff that was web-only:

I groaned to myself. We were avid users of Campfire, and had tested out the many copycat products that had come out over the years. I felt the problem had already been solved. It was a crowded market and knew it would be difficult to make his product stand out from the crowd. Regardless, I was excited to get a chance to work with Stewart, and thought it would be fun to solve some of the issues that we’d had with Campfire. We shook hands, kicked things off, and rolled up our sleeves.

When he pulled back the curtain and shared their early prototype on day one, it looked like a hacked together version of IRC in the browser. Barebones and stark. Just six weeks later, we had done some of the best work of our careers. So, how did we get from hacky browser IRC to the Slack we all know and love?

The design goal of Slack was to be fun and not feel like work:

Figuring out why something is successful in retrospect is like trying to describe the taste of water. It’s hard. We aren’t big on process. We prefer to just put our heads down and design stuff, iterating over and over again until something feels right. Slack was no different — there wasn’t any magic process we used — but looking back, I’ve identified a few key things that helped make it the huge success it’s become.

When you hear people talk about Slack they often say it’s “fun”. Using it doesn’t feel like work. It feels like slacking off, even when you’re using it to get stuff done. But when you look under the hood, it’s almost identical to every other chat app. You can create a room, add people, share files, and chat as a group or direct message one another. So, what makes Slack different? Three key things.

1. It looks different.

2. It feels different.

3. It sounds different.

It looks more like a videogame than enterprise software.

To get attention in a crowded market, we had to find a way to get people’s attention. Most enterprise software looks like a cheap 70's prom suit — muted blues and greys everywhere — so, starting with the logo, we made Slack look like a confetti cannon had gone off. Electric blue, yellows, purples, and greens all over. We gave it the color scheme of a video game, not an enterprise collaboration product.

Compare the colors of Hipchat to Slack:

Hipchat compared to Slack meme

Which would you rather use? They both do exactly the same thing, but one feels dull and the other feels electric and playful. The difference? Vibrant colors, a curvy sans-serif typeface, friendly icons, and smiling faces and emojis everywhere.

Slack is also chock full of fun little interactions. 

The logo animates in a burst of colors as it loads; modals slide down from the top of the screen; changing teams flips the screen around like a deck of cards. Throughout the entire product, everything seems to playfully jump around and pop off the screen. Each of these interactions is designed not only to help the user understand what’s going on, but put a little smile on their face.

Have you ever walked into a house and had an indescribable feeling that it just feels cheap? A professional builder would walk in and give you a laundry list of shortcomings: uneven drywall, gappy hardwood floors, hollow-core doors, and cheap hardware. But most people just have a gut reaction. 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. Slack is really fun to use. It feels like a well-built house.

It’s not just how Slack looks and feels, it’s also about what it says. 

With Slack, a bubbly, bright UI, delightful interactions, and hilarious copywriting come together to create a personality.

In Slack, every piece of copy is seen as an opportunity to be playful. Where a competitor might just have a loading spinner, Slack has funny quotes like, “Need to whip up a dessert in a hurry? Dump a bag of oreos on the floor and eat the oreos off the floor like an animal.” A strange little injection of fun into an otherwise boring day. Slack acts like your wise-cracking robot sidekick, instead of the boring enterprise chat tool it would otherwise be. 

Like Interstellar’s TARS, compared to 2001: A Space Odyssey’s HAL9000:

Slack:

TARS: Everybody good? Plenty of slaves for my robot colony?

Their competitors:

HAL9000: I can give you my complete assurance that my work will be back to normal. I’ve still got the greatest enthusiasm and confidence in the mission.

Even Slack’s Twitter account sounds more like an emoji-loving comedian than a billion dollar enterprise software company:

slack tips editing muting searching meme imgur

Andrew Wilkinson reminds us that secret sauce is really not a secret.

White Spot instead of having another gross lovingly home-cooked meal. That is, until my Dad dropped a bomb on me. “We should just make burgers at home,” he said “you know that sauce is just mayonnaise, ketchup, and a bit of relish, right?” Sure enough, we made it at home, and confirmed that their so-called secret sauce was a bunch of grocery store condiments mixed together. Anyone could make it, but few people knew how or bothered. Instead they chalked it up to a some crazy secret recipe.

Slack’s secret sauce is no different. Sure, it’s hard to get the mix of ingredients just right, but it doesn’t have any features that Hipchat and Campfire can’t build. It’s the same enterprise chat client underneath, but it’s playful, fun to use, and all that comes together to make it feel like a character in your life. It’s TARS, not HAL9000.

Over the past couple months, their competitors have caught on. They’ve all started using casual copy and trying to bone up on design, but it’s a little like your uncle trying to do the macarena. It’s too little too late. Everyone has picked their robot sidekick. Slack has stolen the show.

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