An ode to invisible features

A lot of times we talk about “delightful” user experiences we tend to mean animations or other visual supplements to the interface. But there’s a whole world of nearly invisible features that are, in my opinion, just as enchanting.

Take GitLab for example, one of my very favorite tools, and this extremely vanilla, utilitarian view for kicking off a new pipeline (that is, building something from the current Git repo).

The GitLab pipeline view showing default branch selected

To run a pipeline for a non-default branch, you click the menu currently showing main, search for the branch you need, then click to select it. Simple, straightforward.

But I know from digging around in GitLab docs that ref is often used to refer to a given branch in many contexts. What would happen, you might ask yourself, if we tacked ?ref=<branch-name> onto the URL?

Exactly what you’d hope:

The same GitLab pipeline view showing the branch 'lorem/ipsum-dolor' selected

Maybe this tiny feature exists for reasons other than inquisitive guessers like me, but it opens up so much potential for automation outside the bounds of GitLab itself. Now I can create an Alfred workflow to run a new pipeline that accepts a branch name as its argument:

User productivity tool Alfred with command 'pipeline lorem/ipsum-dolor' entered

Giving me the tools to reduce friction and automate the things I do every single day? That is a textbook case of building in user delight.