Key Element 2 of the Successful User Experience – Aesthetics

Date: 28 May
Author: Todd Boppell
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Second in a five-part series examining each of the 5 Key Elements of the User Experience as we define them at Meshfrog.

If you have not yet read about our desire to “Redefine the User Experience”, and how that informs our approach to everything we do, you can do so [here].

Element 2 – Aesthetics

Perhaps nothing has made the case for beauty and elegance as a critical element in the user experience quite so well or so forcefully as the success of Apple in the past 10 years.  Apple has taught much of the technology world that beauty and design excellence can inspire legions of fans while also commanding premium prices.

While Apple may be an extreme or unusual example, we believe that all users, in all situations, prefer beauty and attractive deign as an element of their experience, especially when presented with the option of choosing between two experiences that are essentially equal except for their aesthetics.

How do Aesthetics show up in a user experience?  Some of the ways are rather subjective and yet very compelling.  Interfaces, products, settings, or materials that are Beautiful, Refreshing, and Delightful will leave a lasting positive impression.  Of course we need to keep in mind the context and the meaning that we are conveying – so for instance what is beautiful in a Day Spa may be quite different from beautiful in a Bait and Tackle Shop!  But when expressed appropriately, and in a way that conveys thoughtful effort, then aesthetics can greatly enhance the perception and memory of an experience.

Beyond the basic attractive beauty, achieving aesthetics that include Minimalism, Clarity, and Exposed or Deconstructed Features or Elements is a complimentary approach to the transparency and resonance of the meaning as described in the previous post.  Beauty and simplicity contribute to the ease and immediacy with which the user can detect and perceive the meaning and context of an experience.

After the foundation of meaning is established, strive for beauty, clarity, and simplicity in the user experience – whether the experience is overtly visual or even auditory or procedural – and the efforts invested in meaning will be reinforced and improved when supported by powerful aesthetics.

First in a five-part series examining each of the 5 Key Elements of the User Experience as we define them at Meshfrog.

If you have not yet read about our desire to “Redefine the User Experience”, and how that informs our approach to everything we do, you can do so [here].

Element 1 – Meaning

We believe that meaning is at the very core of any user experience.  To be more specific, every such experience represents an exchange of information – whether unidirectional or bidirectional – and as such meaning is an absolutely critical component.  Information without meaning is just noise or trivia, and a user experience that fails to deliver the right data with the right meaning will be seen as a frustrating, time-wasting failure by the user.

Some of the critical characteristics of a successful user experience in regards to how meaning is communicated include:

  • Resonant – the meaning can be perceived and felt and in a way that is supported by all of the elements – nothing is dissonant.
  • Relevant – the information and the meaning are in synch and are clearly meeting the needs expressed by the user.
  • Transparent – the meaning must be communicated authentically and consistently.  Secrecy, double-talk, and hidden agendas are the enemy of true meaning.
  • Intuitive – to communicate well – whether in marketing or new employee orientation or in software design – is to provide a user experience in which both information and meaning can be gleaned without wasted effort or confusion.


In order to deliver the characteristics above, the user experience may include many tools and components, but these three are always critical to how meaning is communicated:

  • Vocabulary – using the right vocabulary is the first critical component.  If the vocabulary misses the mark in tone, level, nuance, relevance, or any of the other ways that can negatively impact the user’s comprehension, then the meaning deficit may be too hard to overcome.  Keep in mind here that the “vocabulary” may not be purely verbal.  There are many visual vocabularies as well – icons being any easy example.
  • Grammar – the sequence and syntax is the next critical component.  The right vocabulary must be supported by the right usage – visually, procedurally, linguistically, or however.  Every user experience takes place within a set of “grammatical” rules, many of which are simply expectations based on customs and previous similar experiences.  This means that breaking with the user’s expectations and with common norms can be risky when it requires new grammar, but it can also be extremely powerful and successful if executed correctly.
  • Metaphor – this last component may be somewhat optional in some user experiences, but the most powerful and meaningful ones harness the right vocabulary and grammar and do so within the framework of a metaphor.  Humans love metaphors as an aid to comprehension – we appreciate it when something new and perhaps complex or intimidating can be made more accessible and understandable by relating it to something we already know and understand.  As with vocabulary and grammar, a metaphor can include visual and kinesthetic elements in addition to the usual verbal ones, and finding the right metaphor to use across all the relevant modalities for the user experience in question is a powerful tool in creating and communicating meaning.

By setting a clear intention to make the user experience rich in meaning – through the lenses of Resonance, Relevance, Transparency, and Intuition – and then executing that intention by questioning and refining  the specific Vocabulary, Grammar and Metaphors that are used, the conveyance of real meaning is achieved and the foundation of the user experience is laid.

Why We Founded Meshfrog…

Date: 24 Mar
Author: Todd Boppell
Comments: 0

Peter and I founded Meshfrog Inc, on January 2, 2012.  We had only been discussing the possibility for a couple of months prior, but we had worked together for more than five years at Nexa Technologies previously (see our bios here) and we certainly knew each others’ strengths and talents.  So the key issue for us was not in knowing or trusting one another, as it might be for many a new partnership, but in determining whether there was a shared vision for a new organization that we could both really embrace.

As we started to discuss an actual vision for the company, and long before we chose a name or filed any paperwork, some important themes emerged:

  • We were both committed to building something we could be proud of – both at the software and technical level, and at the organizational and cultural level.  We see these as inextricably linked – an amazing, creative, and energized organization will build products that are filled with that same energy and talent.  Conversely, an organization that allows mediocre products to represent it has a really hard time remaining a fun, exciting, or interesting organization because the products, and the customer responses to them, take a real toll on the staff and undermine any message of excellence or vision that management is trying to convey.
  • Peter and I both love to solve problems and bring our unique perspectives, insights, and experiences to those solutions.  There is an interesting characteristic that we share in this arena, and it is one I have personally never seen discussed in HR or Management writings – I call it “integrated breadth”.  I have interviewed many candidates for various jobs, many of those jobs being technical to some extent, and the normal candidate in a technical position for the last 20 years has usually had a pretty active resume – with a fair number of jobs that last maybe 1 to 3 years being very common.  There is a huge difference though, in my opinion, between those who seem to truly integrate what they learn and experience in every position, no matter how different each role or company or industry may be, versus those who do not seem to make the connections or the quantitative leaps and instead seem sadly ignorant to the bigger picture when looking back at the mosaic of their career experiences.  Peter and I see Meshfrog as both an outcome of our ability to really understand and integrate the very diverse companies and verticals we have worked in, and the array of complex issues we have faced, as well as a new classroom where we can continue to expand the breadth that we have built and integrated so far.
  • The third commonality that emerged, and that was so critical in our decision to form a partnership, was the way that both of us felt so strongly about setting clear intentions for Meshfrog as a company, and ensuring that those intentions would always be in complete alignment with our personal priorities and ethics.  This leads to lots of really interesting behaviors and discussions.  We really do “sweat the small stuff” currently because we know that every decision is creating precedent and is contributing to organizational momentum in certain directions, while decreasing momentum in other directions.  In many ways we are really bringing self-awareness to this process, and in so doing we are trying to ensure that we build a self-aware organization – one that knows what it stands for and why, and is not afraid to look hard at itself to ensure that great solutions and difficult truths are always given adequate attention as they emerge.  This is a huge deal to us because we have both worked at companies where the culture allowed truth to suffer at the expense of politics, or where people were treated in ways that were really wrong and shortsighted but were justified by some claim of “its not my fault”.

The journey to found and build a new company is many things, and these themes and challenges are important to us as take the early steps in this journey.  Only time will tell if they remain important, and if we are successful in honoring them and keeping our bearings.

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