User Experience is Brand Experience

by James Beardmore

4 min read


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I remember when email was useful. Now it's all
* Confirm your email address for Slorp
* Thank you for creating a Slorp account
* Slorp is now BONTO!
* BONTO!'s terms and conditions have changed.
* BONTO! misses you.
* BONTO! is shutting down.

How many pointless emails do you delete without even opening? Oh, you noticed I logged in! And so you emailed me! Thank you so much.

What about when you visit an organization’s website and it clearly signals “we are definitely going to be an absolute pain to deal with?”

Or perhaps there’s an app on your phone and the interface is so satisfying it’s actually fun. Even though it’s for accounting?

These are all examples of user experience as brand experience. If you’re a digital-first organization, the quality of your UX could form your audience’s entire understanding of your brand. Of course for this reason, UX letting down the brand is common; often due to organizations losing sight of strategy and reverting to marketing tactics that contradict their values. A company might have a strong strategy and a lovely brand book, but by the time someone interacts with the actual product, those ideas have often been lost in translation.

So how do you get it right? After working on plenty of digital-first brand refreshes from strategy to UX, we’ve given this a lot of thought.

Design the outcome

At Pilot, the reality of how people will experience a brand is the priority. We are trying to see past the edges of an identity system to the people it touches. This could be your internal team as much as it is your customers. It might sound obvious, but many brand refreshes develop hypothetical ideas intended for someone else to execute instead of keeping the end product in sight. This process of creating guidelines for someone to reskin can miss insights and introduce gaps that impact the experience.

Illustration of a figure opening a door full of images representing brand and UX

Treating digital design as the way into a brand as opposed to a next step is much more natural. It means brand documents are pragmatic tools ready for designers to build on, not just idealistic language. This crucial crossover point from strategy to design is where a team that operates across disciplines comes in handy. Nothing gets lost in translation because we can do things like draw UX design principles directly from brand attributes. This connection ensures that a brand’s personality makes it past the brand guide document and shines through to real interactions with customers.

Design for the organization as much as the product

We do know that a refreshed brand and digital presence isn’t a magic ingredient that can solve everything on its own. Equipping an organization to completely own and use new ideas is as important as the ideas themselves. A lack of ownership of a new brand usually results in falling back on those short term marketing tactics at the expense of long term success. And that means more pointless emails for everyone. If an organization truly owns their new brand, right through from C-suite to sales, it’s going to last.

Successful brand refreshes consider UX as much as messaging and visual identity

Closely integrating UX into a brand reminds us that there’s no single right answer to meeting users’ needs. If you know what your brand stands for, it signals to you how to authentically address audience needs, colouring anything from how you organize search results to what’s in that account confirmation email.

This is why brand and user experience should be assessed and designed together whenever possible. Good UX needs a brand strategy to know who it is and a digital-first brand lives or dies on its UX.

We sometimes get asked to deliver digital design without any formal brand strategy or guidelines to build on. Even with plenty of discovery research, this is much more challenging. In these scenarios we usually recommend a lean strategy exercise to develop the necessary baseline. The insights we develop this way deliver much better value than trying to press on without it.

If you’re currently wondering how a brand refresh could improve user experience, or how to approach both together, let’s talk.