Elaine Wherry

Vice President of Products, Meebo

What Web Application Design Can Learn from the Harpsichord
46 minutes, 21.4mb, recorded 2010-02-09
Elaine Wherry

Listen to enough Baroque harpsichord music, and you'll decide you've heard enough! So says Elaine Wherry, and she applies that lesson to her web designs.

Baroque harpsichordists excelled at taking simple melodies and creating elaborate, beautiful musical performances. But in their desire to push the boundries of experimentation, these keyboard virtuosi eventually ornamented the music beyond the limits of good taste, making the composer's original melody unrecognizable. Listen to enough Baroque music and you'll ultimately say, "This is ridiculous. I never want to hear another harpsichord!"

Something similar happens in web design. With the limitations of today's devices and web browsers, designers are inclined to experiment, challenging fundamental design rules to push the limits. As designers explore just how far they can go, there inevitably comes a breaking point, where you say, "This is ridiculous. I never want to see another rounded corner!"

Elaine gives a brief history lesson on classical music from Baroque to Romantic, then draws a parallel with web applications today. She admires Austrian composer Joseph Haydn, an important, prolific composer of the classical period. Haydn took advantage of progress in musical technology and the strong support of his patron, along with his own artistic talent and disciplined approach to his work, to show the way to a more refined musical style.  Elaine looks at web design today and asks, "What would Haydn do?"

With examples from web applications and her own work, Elaine suggests the progression of classical music can guide us toward more subtle designs.

Elaine Wherry is co-founder and VP of Products at Meebo.  A classically-trained violinist, Elaine graduated from Stanford University with a degree in Symbolic Systems with a concentration in Human/Computer Interaction. After graduating, she became the manager of Usability and Design at Synaptics. She co-founded Meebo.com in 2005 with two good friends, Seth Strenberg and Sandy Jen. She wrote Meebo's JavaScript framework and went on to build and oversee Meebo's Web, User Experience, and Product Management teams. Today Meebo has approximately 40 million unique users in the United States and nearly 100 million worldwide, according to Quantcast.



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