Don’t let the title fool you, I’m not saying that as UX designers we should ever resort to trickery or deceit in order to design a great user experience. I am certainly not suggesting that we make things disappear unexpectedly or create illusions of reality for our users. In fact, at DeveloperTown I work with my designers to stay focused on designing-in clarity and predictability for the products we launch. What I am saying is that I have seen over and over again how providing an aha moment when onboarding a new user can significantly increase the likelihood of them having a great experience, and even contribute to long-term adoption.

Designing great user experiences can feel magical without sacrificing practicality and even predictability. In today’s app-saturated world, the user experience must be memorable to ever consider achieving user adoption and growth. Even if you are lucky enough not to have a direct competitor, there are still a host of other apps competing for your user’s finite attention. There is just too much competition to launch a new product that isn’t defined by a good user experience. Good isn’t even good enough. Good is the new bad, and bad means opened once and exiled to the third screen graveyard of dead icons that never get used again. In order to design great experiences, there is a formula I use which I have recently realized (with a little bit of imagination) is similar to that of the mechanics of a magic trick. The movie “The Prestige” offered a unique perspective:

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But, of course…it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.

Interesting isn’t it? If you can agree that these three steps make up a flawless magic trick, we can parallel these ideas with designing a first-time user experience for new software product.


The Pledge: The magician shows you something ordinary. To get people interested enough to try a new software product, we have to offer to fill a specific need or solve an everyday problem. If you want to get someone to try your software, you need to start by making a meaningful promise to them that you will fulfil that need. Scratch their itch with a promise that is believable.

The Turn: The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. The extraordinary here is the ease and delightfulness with which you just solved their problem. You fulfilled your promise and exceeded all expectations, creating something of value.

The Prestige: You have to bring it back. This is what will bring them back. The promise of something they now can’t live without. Not only did you solve their need, but you made it memorable and demonstrated how this fits into the bigger picture — that there is something useful enough to make it a part of their life. In the best case, you made it to the home screen (though the second screen is still respectable).


To this point in my analogy, the core tenets of designing a good user experience have been based solely on delivering value to the user. Without solving a specific problem or filling a need, (real or perceived) there is no product. As UX Designers, this should always be our primary focus. However, the most important thing missing from my analogy is that which makes magic tricks “magical” and makes user experiences memorable. It lies in the performance. It’s what makes the difference between a good experience and a great experience.

It’s the art of delivering the pledge, the turn and the prestige in an interesting and memorable way. Truly knowing the people that use your software and knowing exactly what they want and when they want it. It’s really thinking through the flow and timing, presenting solid and relevant content, interesting and intuitive interaction design and compelling visuals. Essentially it’s how we choose to unveil the story (sequentially, aesthetically, and through language) to the user. This IS the experience. When done well, this is what they will remember. This is the real prestige of UX.


As software designers, we should always remember that we are designing for people. If we want these people to continue to use the products we design, we have to solve their needs in an interesting and memorable way. With a little assistance from our magician friends, we have the formula to craft great user experiences to meet these needs. Fulfilling a promise to make a user’s problems disappear.