Has UX changed branding?

User experience is often defined as “How the person feels” when they interact with a system.

This is not the same as the UI, despite frequently being used in an interchangeable fashion. The modern generation are far less tolerant of complex systems – witness the Windows vs Mac argument – and we’re seeing a shift in the mind of designers as they move towards user-centric design and care less about brand perception and internalised views.

The requirement for a first-class user experience is to exactly meet the needs of the user – and to deliver this simply, without fuss or headache. To do this, we look at every element of the website and it’s associated digital services – this includes everything from page load speed (frustration), to email communication (curiosity).

Keep it simple Keep it simple is the mantra. But keeping it simple is sometimes very hard to do. The form vs function argument is used widely in this context, suggesting that natural beauty will flow from function. The primary driver for the user experience is the User Interface (UI) but it doesn’t stop there: there is nothing worse than an elegant post-code look-up system that can’t find your house, or a beautifully crafted web-page taking 30 seconds to load.

Branding present and past

And here comes the clash, very few brand-values actually add anything to the experience. Look around you and all you’ll see is names of products attached to everything, your jeans, car, mugs, TV. Everything. It is often seen as a shortcode to explain something altogether deeper and more meaningful. Billions are spent on conveying these brand values to consumers, typically via TV in what is called the TV-Industrial complex.

It wasn’t always that way, this version of branding has only been around since the 1950s and some, like Seth Godin, argue it’s days are numbered.

Branding dates back over 4,000 years and the practice of marking livestock, more recently saw the introduction of watermarks for paper and hallmarks on precious metals. Each was a “stamp of quality” and used to measure the value and ownership of physical stuff.

Branding in the future

It surprising that so many businesses assume that a new brand identity, with a funky new logo and fancy new font can change their organisation. it simply doesn’t work that way, companies need to fix every aspect of the experience that people have with them.

So rather than an aspirational world view, we’re moving to an experiential one – this means we measure how much we like about a brand by how it interacts with us. The brand is certainly no longer just about the visual cues, it’s every feeling that your customer has about you.

Gone, then is the old 4Ps (Price, Product, Place and Promotion) to be replaced with 4Is:

  • Impression: Do I like what this brand has to offer?
  • Interaction: Does it keep promises?
  • Responsiveness: do they listen and respond?
  • Resilience: do they give a toss about me?

Much of this is now absorbed online, we read Trip Advisor recommendations, we scan Amazon looking for bargains, we watch the Twitter firehose and pick out 1 in a 1000 of the items streaming past us. Hell, we don’t even watch adverts anymore as we can skip them (although I do notice have got a lot funnier in the last few years).

Brand is then measured by frequency of email, simple navigation, consumer journey, ease of reading, availability across platforms, speed of information traversing and ease of search/find/location. The smaller elements include a nice logo, a funky font might be more readable (but mustn’t slow the site loading down, though) and that’s about it.

And it works. We recently (Dec 2013) launched an updated web-site for a new client (no names, sorry) using exactly the same content, logo and colour scheme. The consumer journey was heavily re-worked, most of the content was thrown away (=demoted deep inside the site), the navigation was simplified and was delivered on a WordPress (responsive) framework. The performance of the site has doubled, despite no change in styleguides, logos and we certainly didn’t add any of them fancy infographics that everyone is talking about! I suppose that’s the power of UX.

Talk to us if you want to know more.

By Martin Dower