Blog Archive

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.

Copyright © 2014 Meshfrog Inc. - All Rights Reserved.