19 September 2018
UX and Branding — Here are two buzzwords we constantly hear since 2010 in mainstream business channels. Even though these are concepts that have existed decades ago (and some might argue, centuries), attention is brought to them in the last decade or so.
Allow me to shed some light, in my perspective, on what exactly is UX & Branding, and why these are critical components to building your business and or product.
What is UX & Branding
We are living in the age of digital products. From the moment we wake up to the time we sleep, we are inseparable from our devices. The smartphone is now an extension of our human self, thus the ‘user experience’ of using that device becomes paramount in determining the success or failure of the app (aka product) that we use every few minutes of the day.
Behind the app, you would often find a business. Seldom will you find an app that is truly independent of a business entity. Whether these apps are directly revenue generating (through app sales, ads or gamification ala buying instant gratification) or perhaps they are serving a bigger marketing equation, e.g. baby center providing value for pregnant women and new mothers but subtly pushing the Johnson and Johnson brand — there will always be a business agenda behind it.
So with the above context in mind, let’s break down what exactly is UX & branding.
UX is short for User Experience. Here is the wordy definition from Wikipedia:
User Experience refers to a person’s emotions and attitudes about using a particular product, system or service. It includes the practical, experiential, affective, meaningful and valuable aspects of human–computer interaction and product ownership.
Throwing the jargon out — I would say that UX is the emotional experience a user goes through while using a digital product, typically an app.
I narrow it down to ‘emotional experience’ because every touch, swipe and interaction you perform is to take you a step closer to achieving your end goal. And the process will supply you with either delight or frustration. We will always find ourselves in either extremes. Even when you are bored and scrolling through Facebook — you are actually enjoying good UX because the app allows you to pass time while consuming meaningless content. You still end up feeling bored and empty, but the app understands that — and they continuously serve you content that has been algorithmically curated to keep you coming back whenever you habitually have time to spare.
Good UX is usually invisible. We are non-appreciative creatures when it comes to the craft of UX. How often have you felt gratitude for the thought that goes into the design of your WhatsApp messaging app? Or when you successfully completed a banking transaction online via your mobile phone — how often do we say “damn, that’s a great experience!”
But bad UX is extremely obvious. When there’s a micro delay — we get pissed off. If we had to take an extra tap to do something, we get pissed off.
The process of designing user experience is a long and detailed one — if you want to do it right. Workshops are common practice in order to determine the best user journey and defining what a user actually goes through in trying to achieve his goal. User research and focus group testing are other common practices in the foundational steps of UX design.
So that’s UX in a nutshell. Let’s talk about branding.
Marty Neumeier defines branding as the gut feeling you have towards a product, company or organisation. Gut feeling. That’s what it is.
I define branding as the art and science of crafting perception.
Within the discipline of branding, we have components like —
- Values & Pillars ;— the unshakeable foundation that you want to align with your audience
- Messaging — what will you say to your audience
- Identity — how do you look and sound like to your audience
- Positioning — where do your audience put you among the other brands.
And last but definitely not least,
- Experience — how your audience interacts with your touchpoints.
The common misconception is that branding is all about the logo. I’d say that from a certain point of view, that’s actually true. Because the logo, being an integral part of the brand, has the responsibility to condensing everything that the brand stands for into one symbol.
However, with the above non-comprehensive breakdown of the various components of branding, try to understand that the brand is a much more complex being. One that serves a very simple purpose — communicating a purposeful perspective to your audience.
The holistic approach
Here is the main point I want to drive about these two disciplines. You’ll find that both of them revolves around one thing — the audience (or the user).
Practitioners in these fields craft their service offering around this component. Branding professionals often refer to them as the audience, while UX pros call them as the user. For the purpose of this article, I shall continue to refer to them as the audience.
Remember the buzz word ‘design thinking’ ? — it’s essentially designing experiences with the audience in mind. The person who will be interacting with your content, product or service — that is who you are designing for. You have to walk in their minds, empathise with them and truly understand the problem they are trying to solve by interacting with you.
In UX and branding, we analyse the audience, talk to them, extract intel from them and basically put them in the center of the experience design. Only then will you be able to craft something truly meaningful for the people you are trying to help. Assumptions will often end up in low adoption.
In Neu Entity, we deploy the NBX model for our clients — and within it, you will find that the strategy work on audience, directly impacts the execution work on UX.
Understand this — the audience does not care how cool your logo is, or how witty your copy is. They don’t care that you have a thousand clients or that your board is made of very impressive people. They don’t care if you have fancy slide-ins on your app. All they care about is how you are going to help them solve their problems.
You’ve got to not just understand their problems but look at the ‘job to be done’ and the mindset of the audience as well. Job to be done is a concept popularised by Professor Clayton Christensen, whereby he talks about the deeper objective that a person has when he purchases (or hires) something for a seemingly simple task. E.g. a person buying milkshake at a pitstop doesn’t just want to drink it, but he wants something to sip from time to time, that is convenient, while he commutes to work.
As for mindset, understanding it gives you context as to how the audience is looking at the problem. For example, if the problem is not being able to get healthy food at work during lunch — the mindset of someone who’s a bodybuilder or health junkie is totally different from the mindset of someone who’s diagnosed with a serious illness where he needs to eat healthy to survive. Understanding that can allow you to communicate and provide your audience with a better experience.
In branding, you would also want to consider brand affinity of your audience. Understanding the brands they love can be a shortcut or hack towards finding patterns of association that we can establish so that they can feel like they are comfortable being linked to our brand.
Why should you look at them as one?
If you go full UX without considering brand — brand values might get lost and while the actual interaction experience might be positive one, there isn’t a long lasting impression that jolts them into remembering you. Branding has that effect.
However, if you go full branding without any UX consideration, you might have great messaging and emotional connection but when users get into the meat of your product or service, the experience is weak and may costing you a drop in returning business.
Together, UX and branding can create delight for your customers, resulting in voluntary referrals.
You will be creating a tribe of raving fans, and dare I say, a cult.
In conclusion, while these are two disciplines with professionals and experts who do them individually as rendered services, it bodes well for you, as the product owner or entrepreneur to view them as one.
They are not the same, but these are two sides of one coin. If separated, they can possibly do good for you but together, they are formidable.
UX driven branding or brand driven UX — call it whatever you want. These two are essential to your business.
I’d love to hear your thoughts or if you’d like to connect for a deeper conversation, please… reach out to me.