Since my background is in programming, and I started my stint in UX by working on the client side, I never really worked closely with a creative director or branding team until I moved to NYC. When I moved to NY I found myself working a great deal within agencies or with people that came from agency backgrounds. The model was set up such that the “creative” (usually visual design) reigned supreme and everything had to be passed through a creative director for approval. Each bit of functionality and development had to reflect the brand correctly. Ok, that made sense, however what threw me off was that the brand and the experience were usually thought of as separate. Also, The Brand came first in the process, and was more important, even if portraying it disrupted the experience.
For instance, I was in a meeting where we were looking at a mobile web application. Because the application would be used on a mobile device, the page weight had to be light for a faster download speed, and contrast had to be taken into account as the user could be using the device inside, outside or anywhere. When I brought up the concerns that I had with a particular design not taking these practices into account, I was told that the look and feel had to be a certain way due to The Brand. I couldn’t help but wonder what people would think of The Brand if they couldn’t use the application (one they would have to pay for). Basically having a bad experience with the application would seem to reflect badly on The Brand itself. Somehow, this connection was not being made on the other end, and this made me feel like I was insane! Was I the only one in the room that saw what would happen if we didn’t update our thinking??
Coincidentally, Joshua Porter recently wrote a great post on the 52 Weeks of UX site that described exactly what I’ve been mulling over. Of course, his description was much more clear and elegant and I encourage you to read through the post: Experience Precedes Branding. The basic premise is that people don’t use products simply because they look good or have a consistent look and feel (although these are important). They use them because they provide a good experience. And the better the experience they provide, the more a user will want to engage with the product. It’s simple really, experience is the brand, brand is the experience. They are tied together into one. In the print days, the user didn’t interact with an ad for a product. They saw a static view that conceptually portrayed the product, what it did, and who it was for. Now that we are in the digital age, the portrayal has become less conceptual and more direct. People are now using our applications, not looking at them to sell the product, they are the product. It’s time for a change in thinking.
I’ll leave you with a question. How do we begin to get our creative counterparts and others, mostly from a print background, to understand this? Is it just a simple case of pushing back, or of getting executive level leadership in place who own the experience? What ideas do you have to help us progress?