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It’s Time for the UX Community to Toughen Up

It’s time to take a giant step forward and realize we are the new brand leaders. Let’s consider a simple formula:  Brand = Experience. Keep it simple, it’s not Brand = Experience minus time it takes to code, minus designers whim, minus hastily written copy deck, minus client fear.

Just this: Brand = Experience.

We, the UX crowd, are the new brand leads. We are the ones who will win battles and wars in customer perception and preference.  Advertising leaves an impression, but digital interaction creates an immediate emotional state through functional creations.

Brand is emotion and effects living inside your phone or laptop and we are the creators of that connection. We are tasked with defining the tangible and real versions of brand interaction.

Digital is where consumers start, how they advocate and where they go for problems and all branded interaction is moving to digital.

Let me rephrase that: All branded interaction is digital. Period.

There are some laggard brands out there, so if if you’re working on a consumer brand that doesn’t have a digital product, get thinking… that brand is falling behind.

We Are A Breed Of Leader Who Has Left The Reins To Dangle For Too Long. 

Why are there so many people changing our vision?

When I talk to people about this, the most common response relates to the mythical beast of “Group Collaboration.”  I say this beast is mythical because any form of collaboration where one’s work is deemed less important than others is not collaboration at all.

Collaboration is agreement on a direction with everyone putting their piece to play.  It’s a wonderful utopian vision that rarely exists. Someone drives the bus. Someone owns the goat. Someone eats the bagel. Someone hoes the pavement. Someone hates bad cliches’ and likes to make his own. (Sorry, tangent)

In an agency structure, why are design and content not led by UX?  They are components of a user experience, but certainly neither is the whole. Design spawns from use and content is a child of voice, both of which manifest from UX efforts.

The brand experience is being affected by design and content, but those roles are not accountable for the end result of overall experience: they are not approaching the same problems in the same ways as the UX lead.

Evolution is a Constant

If brand preference is a spectrum of positive experience, we as experience designers need a bit of evolution.

Evolution means getting some credit for the improvements in brand perception that digital products are affecting.

We UX pros are all a strange shade of specialty, but we share the ability to create something from nothing, while keeping two conflicting thoughts in our head: managing complexity while advancing the experience.

Dig this: we love analytics and metics on site performance, so let’s move beyond the device and see how our work is measured on a larger scale.  Let’s get a conversation going that takes our domain of user success and transforms it into a measurable positive benefit on a brand.

If you are working on a brand being measured for brand sentiment, I encourage you to get with the group who’s performing those analytics and dig in like a tick on a dog’s ass.

As a group, we tend to think about the screen. How things move, what they do, how they react to different poking and clicking. What we sometimes overlook is the emotive value that comes by interacting with our creations. What if we tied an emotional value to the result of every interaction?  What’s the micro-value for a tap or a swipe?

This is where brand as experience starts to make sense.  If trust is a series of good experiences over time and positive brand sentiment is guided by trust, it’s a magnificent truth that we propel the brand.

So I’ll say it again, it’s time to toughen up and create something remarkable, moving UX forward and upward.

Design by Fire 2012

Andrew Heaton will be one of the speakers at Design by Fire 2012. The sixth Design by Fire Conference will take place on Friday 12 October, from 9:30 to 18:30 in San Francisco.

Andrew Heaton

Andrew is a designer who had been strictly digital since 1993, focused on user experience and conceptual design. He is the author of 'Purposely Irregular: Zen, Punk Rock and Ruthlessness in Experience Design'.

12 comments on this article

  1. Pieter Jongerius on

    I couldn’t agree more! UX designers should realise that the products they design have a personality at their core that should be congruent with brand personality. In our Dutch agency we put UX and brand at the heart of all of our projects. This ensures that in product innovation the apple doesn’t fall too far from the (brand-)tree.
    Thanks!
    Pieter

  2. Kaycee A. Collins on

    Yes! I completely agree!

    I work in Marketing Department on the UX team. Marketers are become more and more aware about the benefit of viewing the ENTIRE experience and not just one touch point. We are seeing more requests to understand the holistic experience that a client or prospect may have with the brand.

    We must thing holistically, and as you said, “If trust is a series of good experiences over time and positive brand sentiment is guided by trust, it’s a magnificent truth that we propel the brand.”

  3. Darren Hood on

    Amen to that, Pieter! Great article, Andrew!

  4. Some Questions on

    I admire the sentiment I really do, but there are some things I’m not completely clear on:

    The first thing was; “Digital is where consumers start, how they advocate and where they go for problems and all branded interaction is moving to digital.” This is a very sweeping statement and I imagine that the Service Design movement would have something to say about this. In the era of defining multi-channel interactions, isn’t focusing solely on the digital a limited approach?

    I then saw: “In an agency structure, why are design and content not led by UX? They are components of a user experience, but certainly neither is the whole. Design spawns from use and content is a child of voice, both of which manifest from UX efforts.” Are you really saying that content is subordinate to UX? They should certainly play together, but content is THE reason people visit a site or engage in an experience. You start with content and the experience frames it.

    Then you say: “Dig this: we love analytics and metics on site performance, so let’s move beyond the device and see how our work is measured on a larger scale. Let’s get a conversation going that takes our domain of user success and transforms it into a measurable positive benefit on a brand.” UX practitioners and marketeers have been measuring brand sentiment for years. Perhaps we should be looking beyond brand sentiment though. Organisations need a proper framework to understand and meadure the full range of interactions, cross channel, cross device and out beyond the digital.

    And then: “What we sometimes overlook is the emotive value that comes by interacting with our creations. What if we tied an emotional value to the result of every interaction? What’s the micro-value for a tap or a swipe?” I guess this is more of a rallying call to imagine what might be possible, rather than a particular example of something that might actually be useful, so please forgive me if this is too focused on a throwaway statement. Its questionable how valuable emotional affect at a micro level would be. Without the first clue as to why that affect has arisen, the knowledge is not that helpful. It also varies hugely depending on the user’s individual circumstance and perception.

    And you conclude: “This is where brand as experience starts to make sense. If trust is a series of good experiences over time and positive brand sentiment is guided by trust, it’s a magnificent truth that we propel the brand.” I couldn’t really parse this I’m afraid.

    That said, I couldn’t agree more with what I think is the main thrust of the article. Brands are, to an extent, defined by and perceived through the experiences they offer. UX practitioners have a key role to play in helping to define and shape those experiences.

  5. Greg Dunn on

    I agree that UX and brand experience are definitely intertwined. This is a good article that inspires thought.

    Still, I’m left wondering a little bit about the direction of the article. What is the new role that UX is supposed to take? Are we (UX) taking over what is traditionally seen as marketing? Why or what is it that requires us to toughen up? It’s all a little vague to me.

    Consider this article by John Wood (Goldsmith’s University, London), http://bit.ly/VKCbeT.

    As a profession, we need to come together and figure out standard approach to UX and what it really is that we bring to society before we take on roles traditionally held by other professions, if that is what’s being proposed here.

    Bottom line, we need to think bigger than just brand and UX, like how our creations fit into eco-systems and how the proposition of these creations enter into an exchange of communications with our end-user, wherein branding is only one aspect of these communications.

  6. Holly Kennedy on

    This very topic came up at a #uxdebate last night in London in relation to a well-weathered responsive design discussion. In short, users are not necessarily looking for the same content with each context of use but they ARE looking for the same brand experience. Brand IS experience and I do believe clients are beginning to understand this, even if these aren’t the exact words that are used.

  7. Abhijit Thosar on

    Fully agree! REAL Customer Experience starts at the end of sales funnel! That is the real test of your brand and moment of truth…

    Marketing/Advertising has done its’ job if they get users to this point on digital channels… rest of experience is UX driven!

  8. Emiel on

    Nice read and thumbs up for the inspiration! And although stating that “brand = experience” isn’t really eye opening :-) , I agree that UX has a vital role in delivering that experience. On the other hand, isn’t that what Marketing – if played right – also does? Or at least should do? True, marketeers often tend to include the organisation’s goals in their equation too (maybe even too much sometimes), but they traditionally are the ones ‘representing’ the user and his needs. Then again, they have never been the ones ‘designing’ that experience. For me that’s where the big difference lies.
    Also, saying that “all branded interaction is digital” leaves too much of the other channels out if you ask me. Sure the customer’s focus tends more and more towards the digital channels, but we should not make the mistake to leave important ‘experience channels’ like customer contact centers, physical stores and the product itself out. The real customer journey covers all touchpoints between ‘brand’ and ‘user’, not just the digital ones! A UX Designer should always keep that in mind.
    And in contrast to what Abhijit says, the sales funnel too is part of the user experience, and a vital one! Whether it’s the online funnel, the offline dialogue or the instore route. The experience (which WILL be different for each channel or ‘touchpoint’) should result in the same overall sentiment with the user/customer.
    So yes we – the UX Designers (or whatever we call ourselves) – should definitely pickup the glove (I’m not sure that’s even correct English ;-) ) and start our ‘reign’ on creating and maintaining meaningful, even remarkable customer experiences. And if we play our cards rights, those experiences expand all channels the customer choses to use.

  9. Philip Bonhard on

    Hi,

    I’m sorry, but I’ll be the first person to disagree with your post.

    Brand is most certainly not the experience. The user experience of any given product / service will influence how you feel about a brand, but it’s the product / service itself that determines that.

    Brand is something that is sold to consumers through marketing / advertising.

    User experience is what the user experiences when using the product / service.

    UX designers should focus on creating great products and brand can then be a by product of that.

    I’m pretty sure that neither Steve Jobs nor Johnny Ive set out to create an amazing brand. They set out to create amazing products.

    PS.: this is the second time I’m writing this comment, the first time I didn’t answer your silly “Does Johnny love you question” and got an error message, thus losing my previous post … ts ts ts

    PPS.: this is the third time I’m adding this post, but this time I was smart and copied and pasted the article before submitting. For a blog about interaction and UX, you frustrate your users quite a bit with this silly feature

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