The user experience of chocolate

By Meriel Lenfestey

In the spirit of Christmas, I propose that making great chocolates is the same as making great digital products. (No prizes for guessing what I’ve been doing recently).

When you pop a chocolate in your mouth over Christmas, whether it’s handmade by a friend or mass produced, I ask you to consider what lay behind making it a successful experience. As a chocolatier, it doesn’t matter whether your consumers are a few friends or the public as a whole, the success lies in three key things: Ingredients, process and marketing strategy.


My rum & ginger filled plain chocolates were smooth and subtle winter warmers. My lemon and mint ganaches trigger childhood memories of lemon meringue. The passion fruit ganaches in white chocolate coating are fresh, tangy and feel almost healthy. My rather novel experiment of ‘sushi’ style, with soy, wasabi and ginger was less successful when tested. The theory seemed sound. I really like sushi – and I was making the chocolates for people like me. The saltiness of the soy should accentuate the sweetness of the chocolate and bring out the carefully controlled other flavours. However, what I hoped would be delight turned out to be shock. Either the flavour combination is simply inappropriate for the context or I need to adjust the balance of tastes. It’s a good thing I only made a few!

What does this teach us about designing digital products and services?

Some features may be inappropriate for some channels. It’s important to understand the end users’ desires, needs and expectations, and to consider the practicality of delivering the feature. It’s also important to consider how the features sit alongside each other, to balance the design so that key features are more discoverable than others. And perhaps most importantly, fail early to avoid over-investing in dead ends whether they are complete products, functional elements or UI components.


As I quickly discovered when making chocolates, this makes or breaks the end product. Tempering chocolate is a mysterious process which transforms an (at best) “satisfactory” eating experience to a “delightful” one. I’ve made tasty fillings and ruined them by coating them in poorly tempered chocolate.

It’s a simple process which involves heating and cooling the chocolate to precise temperatures to develop the ‘right’ kind of fat crystals. Poorly tempered chocolate looks bad, has poor texture and doesn’t taste the same. It certainly won’t create any magic for the eater. The process scales from free for small scale chocolate making to expensive (but wise) investment in tools for large businesses.

What does this teach us about designing digital products & services?

Our ‘tempering’ is user-centred design. It is fundamental to the way we work with our clients. It provides a way to navigate through customer needs and client needs to arrive at a win/win, rather than on carelessly delivering a solution the client likes the sound of.

It is planned into projects from day one and cannot be an afterthought. User-centred design, like tempering, is sometimes ignored out of a desire to make quick progress, to save money or out of ignorance. This is false economy. There is always a way to practice user-centred design within available timescales and budget. To fail to do so is exposing the whole project to great risk.


You can’t just focus on the chocolates – there’s everything else which will be part of the eater’s experience, the packaging, instructions, point of sale etc. These need to complement each other and create a single overall experience for the consumer, appropriate to the context. My handmade chocolates come with a handmade key, and are delivered by hand. I always ask for feedback and ideas. Simple – but true to the ‘brand’.

What does this teach us about designing digital products & services?

To deliver on your brand promise it’s important to align all your channels around a clear customer experience vision shaped around customer needs and desires and to build in feedback mechanisms to ensure that the strategy can evolve. This enables everyone involved in all those channels to stay true to the vision as they create solutions.

…Has that chocolate reached 32 degrees yet?

Meriel Lenfestey

With over 25 years experience designing and advising on digital experiences, I am one of the original Experience Designers. I am proud to have played a key part in shaping the XD industry itself, the business world’s response to evolving digital opportunities, and the digital world we all live in.

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