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The Liminal Space Between Meaning and Emotion

It’s typically mentioned that each single a part of an app or web site is one other alternative to make somebody completely satisfied, however that simply isn’t true. design on this approach dangers lowering the function of UX creatives to a binary — both creating issues for the sake of it, or for senseless revenue. As an alternative, we ought to be fixing real-life issues for actual individuals and permitting happiness and success to movement from that.

On this article I’ll define how the liminal house between that means and emotion got here to be, and clarify how designers can beat it by specializing in customers.

What Do We Imply by Liminal House?

The phrase liminal comes from the Latin phrase for threshold — limen. It describes a spot of transition, uncertainty, and a state of being in between. There are many examples of liminality in UX design, from time spent ready for an app to load by means of to the way in which streaming platforms seem earlier than you’ve chosen a film.

There will also be a liminal house of types between conceptual concepts. That is what I imply after I speak concerning the gulf between that means and emotion since each ideas have many aspects and subsets. As UX designers, it’s our activity to discover a steadiness between the numerous totally different strands of that means and emotion while making an attempt to interpret them in a helpful approach.

Misunderstood Which means

Simply as way of life gurus encourage individuals to search out the ‘why’ of their lives, UX designers seek for methods to assist manufacturers meaningfully work together with customers. Usually which means connecting a services or products with one thing that actually issues to individuals. Fb is a good instance of this quest for that means, significantly since their 2018 refocus from information and promoting to posts from household and associates — which Mark Zuckerberg billed as a technique to “really feel extra linked and fewer lonely [for] long run measures of happiness and well being.”

The reality is that not every part we create must have such a grand objective. The necessary factor is that we design to make lives higher at the very least in some small approach. Misconceptions about that means can stop us from attaining this purpose, and maybe even misdirect our efforts fully.


True innovation is about looking for that means (the ‘why’) earlier than discovering an answer. Companies in in the present day’s fast-paced business atmosphere can simply be pushed in the direction of discovering options shortly with out taking time to step again and take into consideration the that means of their model and merchandise to customers. This may result in them diverging from their final objective — begging the query of whether or not they’ve truly solved something in any respect.

The choice of Netflix to vary their ranking system from X/5 stars to a easy thumbs up or down rating is an effective instance of this. Whereas the corporate has reported elevated engagement with the streamlined rankings, they could have undermined their capability to precisely recommend content material consistent with person preferences by utilizing an oversimplified system.

In distinction, the Scandinavian watch model Skagen managed to take care of the core performance and objective of a timepiece once they first create a smartwatch. Choosing a easy design that also instructed time within the conventional approach, they managed to innovate with no need to reinvent the wheel.

Put merely, designers shouldn’t seek for options however slightly for that means. By specializing in the issues that customers really want, you’re positive to encounter methods to supply for them.


Efforts to search out and pursue that means will also be derailed by stress from opponents and the broader market. That is exemplified by the selection of WhatsApp, a privacy-driven messaging platform, to introduce story sharing performance à la Instagram. Whereas such sharing options could have turn out to be the norm for social media platforms, that doesn’t imply that customers need that very same performance mirrored throughout all of their apps.

The aforementioned Skagen smartwatch undertaking bumped into the identical lure when including new options that difficult its minimalist design. Relatively than bettering the general utility of the accent, it as an alternative pushed it nearer to opponents such because the Apple Watch.

This goes to point out that whereas it may be tempting to default to the mass market enchantment of your opponents, it’s typically higher to consider distinctive methods to serve customers. Keep in mind that behind every of your design decisions is a choice to both entice customers by means of superficial means or have interaction them by fixing real-life issues.

Misunderstood Emotion

Emotion is seen as each the automobile by which we drive person interactions and the end result of them. It’s also broadly misunderstood, and may lead designers away from discovering methods to counterpoint customers’ lives by encouraging them to view emotion as a way to an finish.


The purpose of UX design is to assessment and plan how individuals will work together with a product or model. Above all else, it requires designers to foretell human behaviour — a lot in order that Robert Hoekman Jr as soon as described it as “the appliance of psychology to the design of know-how.”

Simply because we’re predicting how customers will reply to an expertise doesn’t imply that we must always manipulate them, nevertheless. Relatively than utilizing psychological stimuli to attract customers into merchandise and types, we must always as an alternative encourage them to have interaction by offering helpful instruments that they really need.

This drawback is epitomized by the ‘like’ button utilized by Fb and different social media platforms. Its impact has been described by its creator as “vibrant dings of pseudo-pleasure” that push individuals to the touch, swipe and faucet their smartphones 1000’s of occasions a day with out providing any tangible profit to their lives.


Equally, magnificence is usually conflated with emotion. Whereas it might evoke emotions of contentment and happiness, it shouldn’t be the core purpose of design efforts.

A few of the world’s most profitable apps are full of helpful options that are then enhanced by a lovely design. R/GA’s work for the digital financial institution Bradesco is an effective instance of how this could work in observe. By combining on a regular basis duties (equivalent to reserving journey) with banking, their app created a really helpful expertise that was made even higher by a sexy interface.

The lesson is that it’s higher to beautify actual options than to shine superficial ones. As long as you concentrate on offering actual worth, you’ll be able to nonetheless think about the aesthetics of your design with out giving in to tokenism.

How Designers Can Cross the Threshold

Few designers would admit to misunderstanding or ignoring that means and emotion, but it surely’s straightforward to fall into the liminal house between these ideas. Luckily, there are methods to cross again over that threshold and focus on the wants of customers — however these require technique and planning.

To place the person again on the coronary heart of expertise design, we have to cease creating tales and as an alternative purpose to create actual worlds for customers to step into and work together with. This strategy is called storyscaping, and distils the worth, that means, and emotion behind a model or product into an organising concept.

In storyscaping, the person is the hero and the model a mentor that gives them with the services or products they should resolve their issues. This course of permits you to deliver all the weather of design collectively to facilitate a person’s expertise. It creates a narrative for them to reside, slightly than one to easily be instructed.

Creating Tales to be Lived, Not Informed

It’s straightforward to see the place UX design has gone incorrect prior to now, however bringing it again in the direction of a extra user-centric focus requires planning. There’s an inevitable have to step again and reassess how design can be utilized to create happiness and contentment whereas nonetheless satisfying enterprise priorities.

By stepping again and taking the time to grasp what customers need and want, it’s doable to cross the brink of liminal misunderstanding and undertake an altogether extra constructive strategy to that means and emotion. By becoming a member of the dots between them we will create higher merchandise and extra emotive manufacturers that promote extra and resolve actual issues.