Part 3: Towards an integrative aesthetic experience

[Third in a series of postings about aesthetics and beauty as they pertain to interaction design, and beyond…]

So what then is the result of this investigation into beauty, as a value of user experience and beyond? In terms of pragmatic product development, where the designer must collaborate and communicate with non-design peers leery of “flowery prose” extolling beauty’s worth (“What else is new”, yawns the jaded engineer), what’s needed is a simple yet powerful framework that builds upon what we already know. This framework must provide a straight-forward vocabulary and un-compromising attitude about what’s most important.

What’s also needed is a re-positioning of beauty from simply surface veneer towards a cumulative or “integrative” aesthetic whereby the core elements build upon each other to yield something engaging, memorable, and thus deserving of repeat purchase or glowing customer testimonials. Aesthetic implies a totality, a whole, that also speaks to the whole human being, not just “users” objectified for a study or reduced to a data point: issues of respect, desire, freedom, interaction, etc.

I propose a movement towards creating and delivering the “integrative aesthetic experience”, as a way to target product development efforts around human goals that will lead to better products, happier customers, and increased business, etc. This idea is based upon the following framework:


These are the core elements of an aesthetic experience expressed in simple practical terms that can be used with PM’s, engineers, managers, but keen readers will note their mapping to Classical rhetorical terms that constitute the balance. The following is a breakdown of each element with the Classical term in parens.

Story (mythos): The narrative or scenario of use for this product, and how it suggests a positive, beneficial user experience or service for the targeted customer. Also, how does this offering fit within the portfolio of products/services by the company. What’s literally “the story” for this, as communicated by marketing and supported by the product’s functionality, to fit the user’s needs and goals?

Style (ethos): The sensual/visual voice expressing quality of the product, and the overall brand in a way that supports the business, distinctly portrays the product, and fits the user’s “gestalt” of the company, context of use, needs/wants. High style is valued by today’s customers for various psych and emotive reasons.

Performance (logos): The technical ability of the product; its functionality and durability for the targeted market and usage scenarios. High performance, anytime/anywhere, 99.9999 uptime, rapid updates and on-the-fly responsiveness all convey this quality.

Utility (pathos): The general usability and utility of the product’s features for a specific audience and context. Is it ergonomic, culturally appropriate, psychologically meaningful. Are the affordances easily conveyed? Is it accessible and standards-compliant, etc.

With these simple terms a product development team can:

– Map core elements that relate to their team function and role (for example, Engineering & QA in charge of performance, Marketing shapes the brand story, User Experience guides the style and utility).

– Shape a meaningful dialogue about the product around specific anchors, instead of loosy-goosey vague wording and hand-waving, there’s something specific to point to and someone can take ownership of (for example, Does the story enhance the overall company brand? Who can improve that? etc.)

– Establish basic criteria for internal evaluation, a 1-10 rating perhaps for determining go/no-go decisions, judged according to each of the four elements (for example: story is a solid 10 but the performance is meager 5, while the style is only a 2, etc.)

I think what makes this framework powerful is its use of simple clear words anyone can grok fairy reasonably and easily. Managers and engineers “get” what style, performance, and utility are all about. PM’s often argue about “what’s the story” for a certain feature when preparing their PRD or MRD requirements. These are not alien terms or “flowery prose” but ordinary concepts that map to something quite extraordinary and powerful for the designer seeking to achieve beauty in design, regardless of the final form: an interface, a device, a service, etc.

Aesthetics for Interaction Design

Part 1: General thoughts on design aesthetics

Part 2: Interpretations of beauty as a value of user experience

Part 3: Towards an integrative aesthetic experience

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