Everything Follows the Brand
Design // Allow me to perform a thought experiment: Together, we step into your newly designed premises and admire the intelligent architecture, the subtle yet effective lighting, the carefully coordinated colors and high-quality materials. An amazing experience – but why doesn’t the online
channel feel just as perfect? There is no reason why it couldn’t be.
The term “user experience” is used readily and often, but we usually forget what experience means. It’s not about the user-friendliness and intuitiveness of an application, but about the user having a positive experience during and after use. Experience is made more difficult to evaluate by the fact that it is very subjective and depends on the context. Not everyone likes the same restaurant and, depending on the day and my mood, my favorite food doesn’t always hit the spot for me either. With this in mind, how can I, as a provider of an online solution, create an excellent user experience?
As you can probably guess, there is no one right answer to this question. To create a user experience, you need the right attitude – the right mindset. Below, I will introduce five aspects that are central to creating a successful solution.
Embedding in processes
User-friendliness is equated with experience, but is in fact only a small part of it. The user-friendliness of input fields on a mobile device may be important, but as a bread-and-butter feature, it is not enough for a positive user experience. Rather, the question is: how does the user get to the described input field – and what happens next? Aspects such as opening the app, logging in or creating an account, a change to the look and feel or even the channel can spoil the user's enjoyment of a well-executed input method. The same applies to the subsequent process: if the next step in an online process takes place one day later by mail, customers are likely to be put off. A good experience must include the interaction before and after use of the app as an integrated whole. This is a difficult task, which can be methodically supported by defining User Journey Maps.
Dealing with limitations
The design of a solution should always be subject to certain factors. Functional requirements are determined through a requirements analysis, and non-functional requirements or technical factors must be taken into account as well. Let me get straight to the point: if we assume that we can take all the limitations into account during the design process, the solution will never meet the required quality standards. That's because additional framework conditions and limitations are bound to be identified during the implementation process. The solution is a staggered approach. It is advisable to create a technology-neutral concept at an early point in time – an ideal picture of the customer's experience, as if there were no limitations. This clarifies the ideal goal and allows everyone involved to keep this goal in mind in every decision, and to optimize the solution in this direction. The result will almost certainly be better than if you limit yourself from the start.
Security is an issue that is often regarded as a limitation, and even as an annoyance. The prevailing opinion is that security negatively affects user experience. Many companies regard the security aspect as a necessary evil to secure their own interests – and implement it accordingly. The same goes for legal requirements. Take the many incomprehensible GDPR disclaimers or acceptance of cookie policies, for example, which are meaningless to the user: even they can be made clear and user-friendly, so that user experience does not suffer. Data protection is now an elementary and often implicit requirement of every user, which can no longer be ignored or neglected. Contrary to popular belief, however, data protection aspects can be done right – i.e. executed and communicated in a way that is user-friendly.
“The details are not the details. They make the design.” Charles Eames, Architect and Filmmaker
The title may sound cynical, but all too often we have found that companies focus on the aspects that they consider to be an absolute must: this is what we call an “inside out” approach. However, successful products meet three main requirements, as outlined in the Value Proposition Canvas: taking work off the user’s hands, alleviating an existing dissatisfaction, or reinforcing an existing benefit. These requirements can be defined by seeing things from the customer's point of view: in other words, by taking an “outside in” approach. The aim is to identify the actual requirements of the target customer that will provide the most customer benefit. It's logical, really. These must offer the opportunity to improve the customer experience and build trust in you and your brand.
Knowing the user
As mentioned, people are individual, and experience depends on context. Much more important, however, is the fact that we, the designer, are not the target customer. We have too much domain knowledge, spend too much time on online solutions and are too involved to maintain the required distance. This can be remedied with an explorative approach, based on observation and tests. Prototypes and user tests are not optional, but the core of a successful project. A well-embedded solution, with each design phase limited to one day, is the test process developed by Google Ventures, Design Sprint. This method serves as an example and shows that much can be achieved, even with very simple prototypes and a small number of test subjects.
And what role does branding play?
The above-mentioned tips will increase the chance of fulfilling the right requirements in the right way. But wait! Everyone else is doing that too. So how will you differentiate yourself? Our world has become more complex and what used to be certainties are no longer a given. Not because digitalization is creating new opportunities, but because expectations, standards, needs and user behavior have changed. The strongest weapon you have in this world is your brand. It is by far the most valuable substance of every business. Customers decide whether a brand suits them. If your products fulfill your brand promise, customers will remain loyal to you. If your brand promise is “simple” but the registration process is complicated from a user’s point of view, you have created dissonance. The same applies if you as a company promise to be “transparent”, but your products have a multidimensional pricing structure.
You must support your brand promise in every step of the design process. Every screen, every error message and every interaction should match your brand values. Strong brands have the most loyal customers and the highest customer value throughout their lifetimes. Or in other words: everything follows the brand.
Graphic based on “Differentiating between User Experience and Usability” by ProContext Consulting GmbH