1 October 2020

How to Create Meaningful Interfaces


By putting the focus back on your user’s end-goal, they will find meaning in using your product, they will become loyal, and find your product valuable.


Interaction designers are probably faced with these questions one time or another, and they’re extremely valuable to ask when tasked with providing a solution to a business need.

Do you want to know the secret to creating meaningful interfaces? Well, don’t stop here and perhaps in the end you would have gained new insights on words like meaning, intentional, useful, valuable and user-centric.

Meaningful design leans on 3 key words: meaning, experience and value.

But a design can’t simply “have meaning” by default, we evoke emotion and prompt action through the interface that’s being used. We provide value to the user when they’re completing a task, something that meaningful design puts back at the centre of attention — considering the end-goal of what the user wants, and allowing them to achieve it.

By putting the focus back on your user’s end-goal, they will find meaning in using your product, they will become loyal, and find your product valuable. And isn’t that what creating experiences is all about? Leaving your customer satisfied and singing praises about your product.

What is meaningful design?


Meaningful design is an academic term used in the interaction design field. There are a few published papers that speak about the experience of meaning, meaning in design and designing with intent — which are all interchangeable terms. Mekler and Hornbaek propose a framework outlining 5 factors of the experience of meaning through the combination of psychology and human-computer interaction.

For those of you who didn’t know, psychology plays a key part in interaction design since it has to do with the human mind and its functions, especially those affecting behaviour in a given context.

When someone is using an app. they might react or feel a certain way because of how the interface is designed and the interactions created between the user and the interface.

Photo by Rob Hampson on unsplash.com


If the experience didn’t have a purpose or have some form of significance, the user wouldn’t resonate with it, it wouldn’t make all that much sense and thus rendering the experience meaningless; it didn’t connect to the user. For an experience to be meaningful, it has to connect with them.

These are the 5 factors for an experience to carry meaning:
  1. Connectedness — the very basis of an experience is based on being able to connect to the person
  2. Resonance — if the experience connects with a person, it feels right
  3. Coherence — the experience makes sense
  4. Purpose — there’s a goal in mind
  5. Significance — the experience matters to the user

With these thoughts in mind, we should strive to create moments of meaning that creates value for our users through a delightful user experience.

Application of meaningful design


A few delightful experiences come to mind that apply these principles, and these just happen to be a few of my favourite apps!
First up we have Shazam.



Shazam’s radically simplified interface

Imagine you’re walking in a store and an awesome tune starts playing. (Sorry kids, not one of those spectacular movie moments where Leonardo DiCaprio is playing you in the story of your life, this is just a song on the over head speakers.) You want to know what it is and add to your groove tunes playlist. You pull out your phone, open Shazam, and bam! It recognises the song, tells you it’s name, the artist and gives you the option to add it to your music playing service.

I not only love that Shazam enables users to achieve their end-goal so easily, but their radically simplified interface still intrigues me every time I open the app. They have such a clear directive that is enabled through the biggest blue button you can see on the screen.
Next up is Timehop.



Timehop’s mascot Abe and whimsical interface

An amalgamation of posts, photos and status updates you’ve shared on different platforms. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. The Facebook empire also presents you with “memories” and if you’re anything like me, I love being reminded of photos or things I shared in the past. The reason I’m mentioning Timehop specifically is that it’s one place for you to revisit memories from more than just Facebook or Instagram. You can connect other social profiles and photo galleries and see Abe, their super cute dinosaur mascot, compile the memories for the day and allow you to reminisce through them.

The experience here is personal, emotional and offers you that feeling of connectedness through evoking emotions of posts or photos you’ve previously shared.

So if you’re wanting to create more meaningful interfaces, here are key highlights that you can keep in mind:
  • Meaningful design is exactly what it says; it’s to provide meaning through interface design to people using your product.
  • Keep in mind and ask yourself “what do people want?”, and remember to look beyond superficial needs and dig a little deeper to understand your users better.
  • Keep your designs personal; if people can connect with what you’re trying to tell them, they’re more likely to enjoy the experiences you’ve crafted for them.
  • And most-importantly, keep the purpose of your product contained by constantly referring back to the end-goal of your users. This will eliminate unnecessary additions that could end up cluttering your product and the user’s experience.