A few years ago, while developing mobile strategies and strategists at Bottle Rocket, I created a working list of UX facets that defined a mobile user experience strategy. These same things came up over and over again: Login. First Use. Most important thing. Personalize. Social. Analytics.

I’d always list those things on the whiteboard as I started to work through a problem. Over time, I tightened them and eventually looked for a metaphor that would help tie them together as a memorable story I could use to internalize them, and teach them to my team. What emerged were “The Cheeseburger Principles.” Here in the Intuit Pro Tax Group, we use them to guide the experiences we create for accountants and their clients.

“The value is obvious and immediate.”

Like a cheeseburger, a well-designed experience leaves no question: this is exactly what I’m looking for. No reason to be clever. Or hide your product behind a frustrating wall of promises and puffery. Show me what it’s for and why I want it. A cheeseburger is food. Everything about it looks like food. I can see all the ingredients right away. My expectations are reasonably set. I am in! User experiences are no different. Years of directing food photography (yes, some of it was cheeseburgers) taught me that transparency is tremendously powerful when helping a customer assess the value of your product.

“The value is accessible.”

How to eat a cheeseburger is self-explanatory. No tools necessary. If I’m blind, I can do it. If I’m deaf, I can do it. I can do it with one hand tied behind my back (depending on the burger). A cheeseburger does not require coach marks or a tutorial. It employs a classic “affordance”: bread that is both the handle and an irreplaceable, edible and texturally satisfying component of the classic cheeseburger experience. If this were a math equation, it would look like this: F<V. The friction required to access value should be less than the value itself. The more value, the less friction, the better. We have a design score system here at Intuit Pro Tax that helps us evaluate a value-to-friction ratio.

“The experience can be personalized — better yet, anticipatory.”

Double patty. No onions. Add bacon. Mustard, not ketchup. Blue cheese. Most cheeseburgers are designed to be delicious. But definitions of delicious vary. As with all preferences, customization helps me fine tune the already awesome experience. When the lady at the counter sees me next time and says “Oh, you’re the double-patty, no-onions, plus-bacon, mustard-not-ketchup, blue-cheese guy” my heart sings. My preferences have made the experience better in two ways, it’s mine and it has made me memorable. Three, if she recommends an appropriate beer. Four, if she says “Bet you’re going to need extra napkins with that, Hon.” The ability to personalize our experience is table stakes. Others’ ability to remember us and anticipate based on our personalizations: that’s a real differentiator and a delighter.

“The experience is more than functional. It is delightful.”

Ultimately, the cheeseburger has to kick ass. Right? Fresh bread, fresh ingredients, burger done just right — all of that culminates in a first bite that leaves you smiling. I don’t regret this decision for a second. It was worth the drive. It was worth the line. The second bite is as good as the first. The last bite is just as good as the second to last bite. It takes just enough time. It’s the right portion. I walk away thinking, “That was an awesome decision — I can’t wait to come back here again.” This was not merely a functional experience; the goal wasn’t to simply walk away unhungry. The goal was to walk away burping, laughing, high-fiving your friends and talking about who else would love this place. How does Intuit define delight? Memorable in the moments that matter: moments where we can deliver magic, moments where we can build a relationship , moments that are hard.

Note: a “minimally delightful” cheeseburger is totally possible. Minimal would require bread, cheese and a meat patty. This is the MVP cheeseburger (in my opinion). Yet it would need to be exceptional, somehow. There are 1000 burgers out there, so how will this 3-ingredient burger differentiate itself? Amazing meat options? Baked-on-site, secret-family-recipe bread? Unmatchable cheese selection? Delivering a “functional” cheeseburger will deliver a predictably “functional” result: a shrug. No raving advocacy. No 10 minute drive into a dangerous neighborhood to repeat this experience. Functional only repeatedly delivers when there’s no alternative. And delivering ‘functional’ leaves you ripe for disruption.

“Sharing the experience with others is part of its value.”

Finally, a cheeseburger this good needs to be recommended. And that recommendation should lend me credibility. The channel I choose to recommend it, those I share it with, and the things I say are all critical to the way others perceive the experience, and me for pointing them to it. I want them to come back to me saying “Wow, you were right. Where ELSE should I go?” I sure as hell will NOT recommend that cheeseburger to my wife, who doesn’t eat hoofed animals or my sister who’s a bonafide vegetarian. They wouldn’t get it. And that’s fine. Consider: how will the right audience, the content and channel available to recommend your product shape my credibility?

“Everything about the experience resonates.”

From the neighborhood, to the decor, to the service, to the presentation, to the parking lot, to how they handle an unsatisfied customer at the next table — all those things need to feel connected. In software user experiences, we describe this as the end to end. Our expectations go far beyond the cheeseburger, itself. They start long before we walk in the door, and they stay with us long after we swallow that last bite. Exceptional product owners understand that everything matters, perhaps most importantly the things we can’t control. We’ll put up with a bad neighborhood, bad traffic, suspect decor — but experience owners acknowledge the extra baggage and heightened expectations those barriers create. User experiences are no different: your brand, your price, your 3rd party partners’ experiences, load times, the unconnected experience and error messages all affect a customer’s perception, fair or not. Developing a true experience strategy to handle tough times and down times is critical to your product’s long term success.

These are my cheeseburger principles. And for the record, Offsite Kitchen has what I consider to be the best, some may argue the most minimally delightful, cheeseburger in Dallas.

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Design Leader, Advisor, Speaker, Student, Advocate, Enabler.

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