Over the last few weeks, you’ve likely had a new type of post engulf your morning social media doomscroll, assembled out of obtuse patterns of colored squares and indecipherable text. This, as you may already know, stems from the online word-guessing game Wordle. The game’s meteoric rise is a testament to how its considered design not only makes it a compelling game, but a compelling social experience as well.
The way Wordle’s posts are constructed is integral to understanding its design. The focal point is the square emojis themselves, which at first blush might as well be abstract art. It’s only once you see different arrangements of squares over multiple posts that you sense that their layout has a specific construction. The tagline that accompanies the emojis doesn’t help with deducing this construction though. You might notice that the number is shared between posts made on the same day, or that the fraction relates to the number of rows of emojis, but that only gets you so far.
But in many ways, that’s the point. As more posts appear on your feed, you can form theories but will lack concrete answers. Inevitably, you can’t help but just want to look it up and find out the truth of the matter, leading you to search for the only distinct element contained in these posts: the word “Wordle.” Once the first result you get is a link to a game, playable on any device, why wouldn’t you try to understand it through the process of play?
Sharing is Caring
Once you get into Wordle, it’s a remarkably restrained experience. Players get a single five letter word per day to deduce, with six guesses to get it in, each laid out vertically below the last. There are only three states each letter in a guess can be in, gray, yellow or green, signaling whether they are in the word and if they are in the right place. Most importantly, every player is presented with the same word each day. This inherently makes players want to talk about the game and compare results, but this also presents a huge problem: How do people talk about a daily word game without spoiling the daily word for each other? The answer is contained back in those tantalizing squares.
The patterns of squares are automatically generated via a share button, arranged to match the visual layout of a player’s guesses. It’s essentially a shareable results screen, showing the flow of one’s game without sharing any information that might spoil the answer. Plus, these patterns take up 35 characters at most, so there’s plenty of room to add in further comments if desired. But because these patterns are so specific in what they share, and so well visually constructed, they structure discussions of the game around this limited information, essentially ensuring spoilers won’t be shared by setting an example of how to talk about it.
Wordle’s design even accounts for when it will be shared. The game updates at midnight in your local timezone, thus ensuring it’s most likely to be played — and, the results shared — the following morning. Not only does this help with stopping spoilers, as you’re unlikely to be online very long before you play it, it also just fits nicely into a morning routine. Wordle is essentially perfectly constructed to slot into the rolling discourse, controlling both the language it’s discussed in and when those discussions occur. These techniques could almost be considered insidious, yet their implementation in Wordle is so pleasant, along with the game itself being so simple and elegant — importantly, without any kind of nefarious monetization — that it’s hard for me to care.
All in all, there’s a lot of excellent design to Wordle. The keyboard’s colors update alongside your guesses, supplying a clarity of information that makes it harder to make mistakes. Every guess having to be a real word ensures players can’t just slap the most common vowels or consonants together for easy answers, but gives players a free slot in which to place a favorite word, or one tailored to their specific vocabulary. There’s a lot to find fun and appealing about the game of Wordle itself. But so too is there delight in uncovering what Wordle is, and delight in sharing our play with one another. Engineering that joy required just as much careful design as making the play itself fun, and the fact that both co-exist in Wordle is what makes it beautiful.