Like Artists, Designers need to design for felt, aesthetic experiences.
It’s been really interesting to see how people have their own particular reaction to the re-brand of Instagram. It made me think why this is and to look at what’s really happening with how we interpret the change. It speaks of change in general and why something visual and representative can generate a lot of feeling. After all it’s just an icon, is it that important?
Being a UX/Visual designer this is especially relevant to what we do and to look at how people experience the world. We need to demystify our users, understand them and empathise with them if we are going to design better experiences.
UX needs to be designed from an holistic aesthetic framework
User experience is where function meets form, but if not thought out properly they don’t meet at all and like ships in the night just glide past each other unseen. How do we shed light on the design process to uncover deeper insights and better design? We need a true meeting of the minds, mind and body through our senses. Left and right brain, form and function. How do we create a holistic experience with users that is deeply connected to their aesthetic identity?
As humans are are sensory animals, we perceive through our senses and then make sense of the world, aesthetics is how we do this, it's how we take in the world around us.
As people with identities we need to have our aesthetic matched, our world-view, reenforced, or aspire to a new aesthetic. Our aesthetic is alive and being shaped and re-enforced constantly.
Brands and branding are all about creating an aesthetic, a sensory doorway to a product of service. Re-branding helps to redefine this aesthetic so it's still relevant and current. Think Instagram with bringing in a new coloured gradient, a white key-line glyph and a paired back interface that removes all colour. It's very now, maybe too much.
The previous icon was in the style of Skeuomorph a visual derivative of the brand that is more based on reality of the object, in this case a polaroid camera. It perfectly described the App in that you instantly shared your digital moments and added a cool retro filter.
When a brand creates an aesthetic it attempts to match peoples aesthetic, when brands say it’s ‘On brand’ ’it’s’ if like saying is it ‘on aesthetic’. As Steve Jobs knew, there is nothing trivial about how things look.
A brand is an aspirational aesthetic, it's closely tired to peoples identity. Think Harley Davidson people. Manchester Football fans, or Victora Secret. All highly sensory experiences and good examples of the the brand being an identy aesthetic for people.
From a user experience point of view you could also say it’s ‘on user experience’ and then try to match it to the brand and say it's also ‘on brand’. But this approach is quite disjointed. It makes more sense to group it under the idea of aesthetics, both how we perceive the world around us subjectively and how culture is viewed objectively. With this starting point it unifies both the brand and user experience.
An aesthetic experience is not just about looks, the original Greek meaning of the word is much more inclusive, as is Eastern and Japanese aesthetics of the every day can also be beautiful, Wabi Sabi: The art of imperfection. It’s all our about the totality of senses, it’s how we perceive the world.
Aesthetics is at the centre of our psychology. It also takes in ethics too in a much more meanigful way then Branding. Corporate social responsibly and company ethics is much more impactful on a brand now then ever before. Apples recent environmental emphasis shows. Including this into our UX discover makes a lot of sense, it builds up a more comlete picture of a Users motivations.
It seems to me Aesthetics is the perfect way to develop User Experience because it’s the most user-centric you can be. It is woven through Business, Functionlaity and Visual areas of the total UX.
If User Experience is about placing the user at the centre of the design process then by studying their aesthetics we can get a much closer to uncovering the mystery how how they perceive and experience the design.
There is always the argument of form over function, function comes first or vice versa. It’s the whole experience, you can’t separate the experience, like in Service Design which studies the end-to-end touch points with customers and beyond. The holistic approach is what forms perception and feeling towards an entity. We already know that things that are beautiful attract people so therefore make them more functional. It is however interesting to think about why some people prefer a purely functional experience, it’s almost like if it’s ugly then it further validates who they are, identity and how they see the world.
This perception that it’s ugly but that people still might like it is an aesthetic choice and crucial to understand UX design as it explains some of the most fundamental choices a user makes and their attitude towards the product or service.
If a design or experience does not validate their identity and world view then good luck in trying to persuade them via even a stellar user experience, it’s an uphill battle. But just knowing this at the outset can make all the difference, you know have a position to design from.
If you have empathy you have insight
It’s why people attach themselves to different brands and different experiences. Look at how people love and hate apple. Look at the reaction of the new Instagram logo or something a little more important like global warming, even Wind farms of solar energy. Why do people have sometimes such polarising reactions, the aesthetics are all wrong. For Instagram they went and radically change the aesthetic of the logo. For the environment a wind farm could be interpreted as how a farmer may well feel the newly arrived wind turbine as a desecration of a sacred hill. As the brilliant analysis of aesthetics by Elizabeth Farrelly “You needn’t press a farmer very hard on the windmill question before you get to: “I just don’t like them, they’re ugly.” Or, even more telling, “My grandfather farmed that hill. I watched it from here as a boy. It should stay as is.” At its core, the argument is aesthetic.”
It’s hard for people on each side to even comprehend the others view and attitude.
If we look at the aesthetics behind these views we start to get some insight into how they perceive the world, this is the start of an empathetic journey of user discovery.
The phenomenon of how we experience the world and what we gravitate towards can be explained through aesthetics. As UX designers if we know this at the outset then it’s going to be a huge help in understanding the users. Defining personas, designing from an empathetic approach and understanding the mystery around decisions the user makes.
As Elizabeth Farrelly says:
Aesthetics is always about the relationship between the seen and the unseen — object and subject.
From a UX perspective I like to think of it as “Beyond form & function lies a deeper unseen User Experience. I use holistic design aesthetics to explore this in my work.”