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  • Wind-tunnel UX and Branded Design

    26th June 12

    Posted by Jeremy Ettinghausen

    Posted in Brands, UX

    Authors: Neil Barrie, Zag Strategy Director & Stephen Wake, Zag Head of Design

    Great brands have long understood that providing customers with enjoyable, differentiated user experiences is critical to winning their loyalty. Walk in to a Waitrose supermarket or Kohl’s store and there’s no comparison to a Tesco or a kmart from the layout of aisles, to the attitude of the staff to the products they do and don’t stock.

    ‘Screen’ UX offers brands a whole range of new opportunities to really deliver on their promises and strengthen their customer relationships. But too often this is a missed opportunity, we end up with experiences that are good but not great. They work, they conform to best practice rules & standards but if you take away the logo they are indistinguishable from each other.

    Wind tunnel web design?

    Images via www.lovemoney.com, www.moneystrands.com, www.mint.com, www.mybillq.com www.lloydstsb.com, www.yodlee.com,

    The screen shots above are from a recent Zag audit of the Personal Finance Manager (PFM) market but the point applies to plenty of other categories.  Jim Carroll has spoken passionately here about the Wind Tunnel Marketing but are we also in danger of entering the age of Wind Tunnel Web/UI design?

    We believe that the most effective way to avoid this situation is to put brand at the heart of UX, to use it as the north star to guide the myriad of interactions and touchpoints that brands create for their customers.

    Of course this is easy to say, much harder to do. Here are 6 ingredients that we find help foster a successful fusion of brand and UX, based on projects we’ve worked on and projects we wish we’d worked on. It’s certainly not comprehensive, more intended as a conversation starter – we’d really like to hear about other ingredients that people find useful here.

    #1 A proper understanding of your audience

    This is obvious but too often people pay lip service to this area. You really need to know the needs, interactions and emotions that colour their experience of your brand and your category. And even more importantly is to have genuine empathy for them as PEOPLE not consumer/users. He’s not a 25-44 year old ABC1, he’s a proud dad who works to hard and reads to his kids too quickly on Thursday nights so he can go out with the boys and so on...

    #2 A proper understanding of your brand’s purpose

    Again obvious. But again too often this is more about platitudes than purpose. For this to work you need to have really asked the tough questions of the brand in question. Why is it really there? What is its role really?

    Nike’s purpose is one of the best I’ve seen for this sort of thing. It’s inspirational, it’s directional and it’s very very stretching. Nike will never complete this mission but they are creating a lot of amazing products while they’re trying. The CEO Mark Parker was instrumental in pushing this mission through eleven years ago. It’s hard to see the previous one (‘to be the number sports & fitness company in the world’) being much use as a guiding principle for UX…

    #3 Appreciate that the rules of branding have changed

    When we say ‘brand’ we don’t mean a didactic set of messages, rules and templates to roll out over every touch-point. We mean a coherent set of guiding principles to help designers make the right decisions about what to say and what to do. Adaptable rather than monolithic. Otherwise the whole exercise will do more harm than good.

    #4 Run a collaborative multi-discipline process

    Every project has a different set of skillsets but one thing we’ve found always leads to better results is to keep it open and collaborative from the outset. So we make sure our graphic/digital designers are challenging (or even writing!) the business/brand strategy on any project from a very early stage. This helps avoiding the platitude/purpose issue touched upon early. If the brand strategy isn’t speaking to the people charged with bringing it to life then it’s probably pointless.

    If you’ve got the above ingredients in place then you should be in a really good place to try and achieve something special, to make the brand thinking tangible and improve it:

    #5 Create signature interactions

    Flipboard is there to be beaten as an example of brand and UX.  A clear vision to be a ‘Social Magazine’ that fuses the beauty and ease of the print magazine experience with the power of social media. The signature interaction of the gentle ‘flip’ movement. And it’s in the name!

    Wonga’s ‘money sliders’ are another powerful example. They exemplify ‘straight talking money’ and a more down to earth approach to finance every time you to interact with them.

    #6 Surprise people (in a useful way)

    Everyone knows the situation. You’ve finally reached the end of a critical project phase. You are sending the authoritative, definitive email to all the stakeholders to wrap everything up, accompanied by the pdf of the amazing work…and then you send the email without the attachment and have to send another going “ahem’ here’s the attachment”. Except when I [Steve] was in the process of executing this understandable error Gmail stopped me.

    You can be sure that anyone who’s experienced that bit of help will tell a lot of people and be more loyal to the brand in the future.

    To us this is the benchmark in terms of moments of surprise and delight. Here is a brand using ‘screen’ UX to build relationships with their customers in as powerful a way as Waitrose are using their store experiences.

    What are the equivalent moments for the brands you work on?

    If you enjoyed this post then we should acknowledge the influence of inestimable @adamtvpowers, BBH London’s Head of UX.

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