A digital experience cannot be delivered without the use of technology, but all too often this means an over-emphasis on technology. Yet technology is just a means to an end; it's what we do with it that is important.
One of the most exciting areas of digital is a process known as User eXperience Design (UXD). It focuses on our interactions and the experiences they generate. Let's imagine visiting a new website. The amount of time it takes for you to ‘get it' and know what to do is critical in determining whether you continue using it. Therefore, 'getting' the design and instinctively knowing what to do will depend on the level of meaning you experience.
Meaning makes a design feel good
Meaning is the overarching concept under which all other user experience factors naturally sit. Meaning is the apex and represents our highest need. However, there is something extraordinary that can happen when we feel meaning. There is a level of meaning we can attain that offers a moment of significance so real it is capable of changing the way we think, feel and perceive the world. This is a ‘peak experience’ – a moment of truth. A moment in which your senses are heightened and your awareness is optimal.
The UXD hierarchy: meaning first
The layers of the user experience hierarchy are shown below, starting with technology at the bottom, content second and style third. When the three layers are combined in an effective way they generate a fourth layer: meaning.
How does meaning work in a digital setting?
We accept things that feel meaningful more quickly and we will rate them as more honest. We will perceive a site that is meaningful as easier to use. However, there are also drawbacks, because if we expect a website to be easy to use and it isn’t, our expectations are not met. If the site is well known, people will feel disappointed and rate the experience as negative. This creates an opposite reaction and we rate the site not as meaningful but meaningless!
Meaning is what we assign to every aspect of our lives from the simplest of actions to the most complex. The design of any digital experience that feels meaningful has to accommodate our basic human need for discovery. We like discovering - it makes us feel good. It satisfies our curiosity and desire to explore and learn.
Discovery and serendipity go hand in hand. Yet, discovery is more than intellectual fancy because we don't just think, we feel. Thinking and feeling are inextricably linked and cannot easily be divided. One affects the other and vice versa.
Why bother with meaning?
Some people would argue that meaning cannot be designed because it is too subjective and our behaviour too unique, too diverse and too complex. However, I disagree. Good design is about building in the right clues to make it meaningful when we interact with them. It's a matter of perspective. Let's make it meaningful!