How User Experience Design Strategy Drives Brand Innovation
And Why It Should
Ask a dozen UX designers how to define their role and you’ll likely get just as many answers. It’s a fairly amorphous term and generally agreed by industry professionals to be fluid and adaptable in practice. What makes UX design fascinating to endeavor is probably also what makes it challenging to explain, but when we’re considering user experience, therein lies the value. When done well, a strong UX design can be the difference between a successful brand identity launch or refresh, or a missed opportunity to connect with and expand audiences. And despite the breadth of perceptions around what UX design entails, there is a consensus that a depth of understanding of users’ needs is fundamental, and before that, an understanding of the brand.
When we think about audiences we typically use terms like “user” and “persona” but of course we’re really talking about people and the human experience. What will inspire or delight a vast cohort is anyone’s guess at the beginning, but an informed guess can indeed be made if we have a strong grasp of both the brand and who they welcome, or want to welcome, into their ecosystem, and find where their needs and those of their users intersect. We have a responsibility to make initial assumptions, but once they’re grounded in discovery and analysis, we can get quite close to articulating those answers. It’s like the scientific method of brand innovation.
Speaking of the who and the why, the first step is challenging ourselves to answer those questions for both the brand and the users equally. We need to understand how the brand sees itself and what words and concepts they associate themselves with, what they do and perhaps most importantly, why they do it. This is tapping into what they themselves find inspirational. That descriptive language and those articulated concepts become the checklist for how designers move forward in visualizing the brand. The effort around UX design involves call and answer, and if we can ask the questions that get to the center of who a brand is, which includes understanding who they want to reach and their understanding of what those audiences need, we can get closer to finding the experience that hits on as many facets as possible.
For example, a healthcare provider might be looking for an innovative brand refresh to respond to the developing wellness concerns related to the pandemic. Customer expectations now include the need for their clinic or hospital system to be a resource for communicating accurate data and a responsiveness to ever-shifting CDC guidelines. They need solutions and guidance related to vaccine mandates from their employer or where they reside geographically, and even more ease of use and finding information for patients who are now navigating a contentious and evolving medical landscape. A rapidly shifting workforce has perhaps impacted patients’ access to healthcare or has changed the way they acquire health insurance and the services available to them. In a relatively short period of time, their current needs and concerns are heightened and expansive.
All of these factors bring up a complex challenge that is deeply tied to the human experience, and the solutions for brand innovation must speak to those very real concerns and needs for a sense of security and trust. User experience design strategy hones in on these considerations and keeps them central to the design direction, helping ensure that patients’ needs are being anticipated with clear interactions, accessibility, transparency of information and overall organizational support. The client knows it needs to innovate its brand to convey a safe, stable and empathetic space for their patients in a way they likely haven’t before. The intersection of the brand and its users’ need is essentially the uncertainty and desire for cohesiveness. The visual and verbal innovation strategy works outward from there, with a framework now in place that can be consistently referred back to for ongoing direction.
Or say your brand offers a deeply creative service, like e-commerce for artworks by local designers. There are a myriad of complex focus areas for the brand here as well that most certainly tap into inspiration points around not only the physical product that the audience wants to acquire, but what intrinsic values around beauty, artistry and identity they want that product and brand to be associated with. A brand can validate those desires by understanding first the essence of who they themselves are and the space they exist within, followed by a discovery of their audience demographics, connections and tendencies. The brand requires a unique, empathetic and creative visual identity and digital experience that speaks to artists they might represent as well as those who would support their expansion.
Again, these are very subjective concepts that require a thoughtful approach to exploring and defining, and research seeks to contextualize and position the brand within the space. Ideally, this research and rationale can inform the development and design that will speak to all audiences with a singular feel, voice and tone.
All in all, this UX strategy for brand innovation requires research. Find out who the brand’s competitors are and analyze their digital properties. Discover what they offer and what is missing in the landscape, and where the brands align or don’t. Decide if there is a level of saturation that we should be aware of. Gather existing user data if possible and observe the journeys. Review user feedback and surveys and see what dominant pain points or positive experiences may exist. Discover the most up to date research on what their audiences want and what their demographics imply. Consider at the same time, the social, economic or political implications that may need to be taken into account, and what is being identified as best overall practices in the brand’s and users’ industry. This isn’t to persuade designers to duplicate what has already been done or to create a generic, reactive solution. Rather, it’s an effort to move away from vacuous, siloed approaches and put the brand into context in order to make informed decisions on how brand innovation can be best achieved.
We need to understand a brand’s needs and goals as deeply as we grasp those of their audience and the broader landscape. The observations and assumptions help structure a brand voice that is thoughtfully and strategically folded into the execution of design thinking. There are many players in a single project: interaction designers, art directors, developers, writers, content strategists, information architects, engineers and product managers, and one of the most interesting discoveries for a UX design strategist is giving those team members something in the way of user and landscape research and analysis that they can tangibly use for their processes. As an added benefit, this process might also serve as a deliverable to the client who can gain a sense of confidence in their designers that they’re deeply aware of their identity and actively using that knowledge to personalize and customize their work to fulfill overarching brand objectives.
A brand is most impactfully experienced when its space has been developed contextually, holistically and responsively. Within a visual identity exists the voice of who we are sharing with the public and the breadth of their value for the industry they serve. These intangible principles are woven into every touchpoint, journey, visual element and call to action for an experience that is compelling, inherently understood and immediately apparent.
Sometimes the brand already exists and just needs to be reinforced. Or it’s in its infancy and you’re joining a team that is looking to bring an idea to life at its onset. Brand innovation benefits from having the language to describe an identity first, that lends itself to the visual design coming to life. Brand UX design strategy is about knowing what the brand is as well as we know what it isn’t; what it can, or is meant, to do, and what it cannot or should not. When UX strategy starts with these examinations at the earliest stages of the project, you have the vocabulary you need to guide you through the entire process, from wireframes to design iterations to launch and ongoing brand reinforcement and innovation.