Web & Digital Design
Unite brand strategy and UX design to create outstanding products
The design world has traditionally treated brand strategy and user experience as separate disciplines, but working on the two independently can hinder product development.
While they may seem like cousins, in practice, brand strategy and UX are more like conjoined twins: From a customer’s point of view, it is nearly impossible to separate one from the other. A customer must decide, say, if a dud can of cola is an isolated event, or a mark upon the entire soda company. Indeed, we live in a world where consumers are more accustomed to believe that even the smallest interaction with a product is also a reflection of the brand as a whole. Why, then, should companies create division between these teams during product development?
Prioritize creating the whole package
The idea that brand design is light on substance — while UX design is the more “serious” endeavor — is falling increasingly out of favor. In 2009, renowned marketer Seth Godin defined a brand as, “The set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”
Companies that may not have given much thought to branding might assume that it only consists of a logo and colors, but as we can see, it extends far beyond mere visuals. Branding is what gives a company personality and what separates it in a crowd of competitors. Defining a clear brand identity — the values your company stands for, the specific market it serves, and the experience it’s meant to deliver — is key to a memorable customer experience.
According to the Harvard Business Review, highly distinctive brands command higher prices than ones that trend towards the general. This recognizable identity must then be adopted by both company employees and customers alike if it's going to make a lasting impression. As Godin reminds us, “If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”
“Branded” doesn’t mean a product just has your logo on it; a branded product also has a weighty promise stamped upon it. This promise is why great care must be taken to build a brand into a product as it’s being made. This will help create genuine alignment and viability in the market.
So how can a company co-create brand and product to establish a seamless user experience? It starts with collaboration. Brand designers and UX designers must be at the same table from the beginning, so both can define and map brand characteristics to product interactions as they are created, and conversely, build brand characteristics that fit with the human-centered vision for the product.
Once a common goal has been established for the product or business, all those responsible for its successful development can get onboard and guidelines can be cross-communicated. What do users need and expect? This is where UX designers can provide specific product data and expertise to brand designers, and both can create a shared vision. Teams that keep this shared vision at the forefront are far more likely to be successful in their endeavor to create a product that’s the whole package.
Get feedback to ensure alignment
The best way to know if what you’re doing is working is to ask your customers. Surveys can help teams assess whether new products are too far off-brand, or if their experimental ideas are indeed resonating. Regular feedback will help teams adapt and refine products so that user experience is aligned with brand expectations — remember that consistency is key in any lasting brand.
What happens when a user’s experience doesn’t match with their expectations of the brand? At best, the product will merely be forgotten, and at worst, it will forever damage the company’s reputation. Remember when Apple launched “iTunes Ping,” a social network for music? We don’t, either.
It’s time for companies to acknowledge the impossibility of separating brand design from user experience in great products, and instead channel energy towards fostering a culture of collaboration. There should be no gap between UX and branding, and the benefits of the two working in harmony are too great to ignore.