Usability and Branding
As corporate websites are often the initial and most frequented brand touch points, usability and online branding have become a central to any business.
Your website is just as important for your company and its brand portfolio as your business card, your brochures, the products you sell, your packaging, the address and the building your company resides in. Branding defines a more and more important part of a company’s value, while usability is what drives a website in terms of numbers. Yet on the web design and usability often conflict. How does iA solve that problem?
Usability and Online Brand Experience
Websites are information tools, and as such they have to be designed according to specific rules. They have to usable and useful and they need a strong brand to make the exceptional experience they provide us with identifiable. Yet, successful websites often follow minimum design (see this year’s shooting star craigslist). No design is a sure way to get the user’s focus on the functions alone. Design as such often jeopardizes the online experience and thus – surprisingly – the brand experience. When it comes to web sites, a better graphic design often leads to a worse (brand) experience.
“Branding is more than just ensuring that customers recognize a logo or product name. Branding means creating an emotional association (such as the feeling of success, happiness, or relief) that customers forms with the product, service, or company. (…) Assuming that users visit web sites for a specific purpose, the better the site fulfills that purpose, the better the direct experience.” Jarred Spool, Branding and Usability, 1996(!)
Brand Agencies are not Web Agencies
Of course medium appropriate branding will increase the overall value of a website without jeopardizing its functionality (see Google, Ebay, New York Times). The bad news is, that brand agencies have started very late to work on interactive projects, and thus have a weak stand when it comes to define “medium appropriate branding”. From my latest experience here in Tokyo, even major brand agencies still see themselves as “too small for interactive projects”. I was hired in 2000 by a major player in Europe to help building up their interactive department. I had to convince a senior consultant with over 20 years of experience in branding (and one of the most talented people I ever worked with), that:
- In it’s core, online brand experience is about usability
- Fun is not achieved through animation but function and response
- Logos should not dance all over the screen
- Flash will not solve but create problems
Big or Small?
To design a chair one has to take static and ergonomics in account. What use is a future style building if it has no widows, secret doors and hidden stairs that connect its floors through secret hallways? To design a website as a functional and well-shaped product one has to precisely understand how websites work. Small brand agencies cannot be expected to have this kind of know-how. Big agencies simply must have an interactive department that think about screen applications (such as cell phones, PDAs, websites) from the very beginning of brand creation.
Web Agencies are not Brand Agencies
Of course, web designers have learned a lot about branding and usability in the last 9 years. Still, web agencies can not be expected to understand the depth and complexity of coherent branding, sometimes they do, but often the appearance of a company online is a mere CI catastrophe. Fair enough: Their job is to guarantee a product that works and not a product that is coherent with the business card and the letterhead.
Interactive Brand Consultant
As creativity has an innate love-hate relationship with technology, usability generally conflicts with graphic design. The job of the rare spices called “interactive brand consultant” – which is precisely what I am – is to solve the conflicts between technology, graphic design, branding and use – in the name of the user, the consumer, the client. It’s often really difficult, but would chess be fun if it were an easy game?
Nothing New under the Sun
And then again it’s not that new: What is good product design? Good product design is and was and always will be applied intelligence that resolves issues of technology, use and aesthetics. Think about the car you particularly like, or think about Jacobsen’s Swan Chair, think about Herzog & De Meuron’s Prada Building in Omote Sando.
Webdesign is Product Design
Maybe you noticed the trick. I said product design, because this is exactly what webdesign, interactive design, information design is: Product design. You need to be a little engineer to do the job. An information engineer. An information architect. An information designer. Or at least an information mechanic. Like I said: It’s difficult and not always easy to explain, but when you manage to resolve the difficulties, it’s really fun. And that’s what information design is all about: The fun of making difficult matters easy.Ð