A recent discussion on Linkedin led me to post:
“Perhaps it is possible to make things too uniform or too easy for users?”
This may seem like an odd thing for an experienced UX designer to say. But the idea stuck with me and it made me think about the user experience we, as the UX community, aim to deliver and how we approach it.
- We create fantastic structures to help users through different tasks as painless and fast as possible.
- We follow tried and tested standards we know users react favourably to such as positioning the search box top-right and the logo top-left.
- We use clearly identifiable coloured and underlined links and big button-like calls-to-actions to help and guide users. Yes, a button at the center of a landing page achieve most clicks.
…in the end, are we just creating the same website over and over? And what are the implications to the brand experience if all websites provide the same experience? Are we potentially missing a vital opportunity to create a memorable brand experience online by funneling users through our sites as fast as possible?
Delivering the right brand experience online
It makes sense for big e-commerce/ service sites to deliver a speedy, low-barrier web experience. They aim to reach as broad a segment of the population as possible and after all the average web user is impatient and just want to find that book, that flight or that baguette fast.
But when designing for more a brand-reliant client with a more much defined and brand-conscious audience it may be better to step back and look at the website as a broader experience and not just a quick checkout machine.
Yes, ofcourse we would like our customers to buy something, but are they buying a pair of jeans or are they buying an idea? To a brand architect the experience is part of the product. It is a tangible element as valuable (if not more valuable) than the fabric and the shape of the object. A facet with a value extending beyond the immediate purchase or even the life span of the product itself. Done right this brand experience can turn customers into brand ambassadors.
Customer turned brand ambassadors have always been valuable. They advocate the use and purchase of products to their friends and family. But with the introduction of social networks brand ambassadors can reach a much bigger group of listeners.
Bringing personality to the pixels
Creating a non-uniform website gives the site an exclusive personality. It makes it stand out by not conforming to the standards, by being independent and by stepping away from the grey masses of the world wide web.
If you are familiar with such a site and its interface you are “in”. You are member of the club of the independent site. You are a leader, not a follower, a digital rebel riding a pixelated chopper in the middle of the information highway.
In fact, I’d love to see a website with exclusive items that can only be accessed in a certain way. Maybe you need a password from a Tweet; Maybe the items can only be bought if you are in a certain physical location; Maybe you need an invite from a friend or maybe you need to scan that QR barcode stuck under Tower Bridge. Suddenly the website experience becomes a gaming experience.
Creating a website with added friction to the experience goes hand-in-hand with the emergence of “Gamification”, the use of game play mechanics for non-game applications. Giving customers the opportunity to explore and achieve helps create a fun and memorable environment. Crediting people for their gaming efforts, be it badges or discounts, can also increase return usage of the website.
Adding friction to a web experience need to be done right and in that sense it is much like traditional graphic design; You need to learn the rules to break them effectively. Friction should be identifiable challenges with the promise of real wins and must never look like mistakes.
User experience is giving the users the best experience. However, it is too often seen as identical to giving the users the fastest experience, but this can be at the expense of a memorable experience.
Looking at user experience as a brand experience opens the door for long term customer relations possibilities extending beyond the website visit and beyond the single customer to their friends.
Rather than fast-track and forgettable task, users should have the freedom to enjoy brands online and be part of a memorable experience they want to share with their peers – our future customers.
Robert Fransgaard is a member of Capgemini UK’s User Experience and Rapid Design Visualisation team and a self-proclaimed digital native. You can find Robert on Twitter.