Yes, that’s Cajun French, and no, we haven’t lost our minds.

Being that March is the month of Mardi Gras, we thought it was a good time, translating the title of this article, to “let the good times roll.” Mardi Gras, among other things, is a good reminder of the value of a little fun in your web project. While business objectives are number one, an unexpected and fun 404 error page, less formal calls to action and subtle/unexpected design elements can put a smile on your customer’s face and give them a warm feeling about your brand.

Why must we have fun?

There is a neverending stream of data that all points toward making sure your website is FAST. Optimize the load time. Optimize the information architecture. Optimize the speed at which a visitor can find what they came for, interact with it and get on to their next web adventure. This often means stripping your site down to the bare essentials, removing anything that doesn’t serve a direct business objective. In many cases that’s just fine – take a look at Google, craigslist, reddit, etc. But where’s the fun in that?

Emotion is one of the foundations of advertising. As long as there have been products to sell, there have been advertisers trying to elicit emotion. Sometimes it’s nostalgia, other times it’s fear, and in rarer instances it is surprise. Surprise often comes in the form of whimsy, a playfulness that serves no real purpose other than to provide a bit of entertainment – or more simply, just fun.

How do we have fun?

One of the best places to inject a little fun is when something goes wrong – for instance if a visitor attempts to view a page at the wrong URL and is confronted with a 404 page. Take a look at these examples of how a potentially frustrating experience is made enjoyable with a little surprise and levity:

MailChimp
MailChimp 404

GitHub
github 404

NPR
NPR 404

All three of these examples are still functional – they all present you with an easy to use search feature to find what you’re looking for. All three also give you an emotional response: MailChimp gives you humor, GitHub gives you nostalgia and NPR gives you light-hearted education. A 404 error page is often overlooked, and these are great examples of taking a little time to surprise and delight your visitors. Check out this fun 404 we did for a local client.

One of the best examples of having a little fun comes from the royal family of keeping things simple and optimized – Google. You can spend hours swimming through their Google Doodle archive. The first Doodle appeared in 1998 to celebrate Burning Man and in 2010 they released their first interactive Doodle – a playable Pac-Man game. While these Doodles help to highlight and celebrate events and occasions, their true purpose is to entertain – and it works, many of the individual Doodles have gone viral and done great things for Google’s brand.

Those are neat ideas, but don’t really apply to me.

Sure, we’d all like to be Google (and have Google’s budget), but the reality is that we are in wildly different industries with much smaller sites. So let’s take a look at some lesser known examples of letting the good times roll.

Hovering Pies

Having a little fun with your hover state can do double duty – revealing additional information about a product while also providing a little eye candy. Check out Emporium Pies’ hover effect.

Emporium Pies

Animated Animals

Animation can go a long way, but it is best when kept simple. The overall design of the Chester Zoo site is a lot of fun, but the subtle animated animals in the background give you that little pop of unexpected surprise.

Chester Zoo

Illustration and Color

Sure, they’re selling ice cream, and that’s already fun, but Desert Chill went all in with their ice cream themed design. The colors, typography and use of illustration bring you right back to your childhood.

Desert Chill

Tell a Story

Every site needs an About page, which incidentally is a great place to have fun telling the story of you and your people. Check out how The Neighbourhood combines fun photography, color and subtle animation while introducing their team.

The Neighbourhood

OK, fine, I guess I’ll have some fun.

So we’ve convinced you to have a little fun, and that’s awesome because if you create an unexpected and fun experience, your visitors are likely to remember you and share their experience with others. These are huge wins in the vastly competitive world of the web – a pleasant and memorable experience goes a long way in ensuring your success.

So what are you waiting for? Go have some fun!