What in the world is UX?

UX of course stands for User Experience, and experience design is hot these days. The challenge in defining UX lies in its interpretation often skewed to a digital connotation. Of course, geographical locations and industries have an influence on the interpretation, but let’s not pigeonhole user experiences to digital applications, or even to design for that matter!
Thanks to the rise of the digital age, companies no longer question their digital presence, but only how they will be digitally presented. And in the case of purely digital companies (e.g. Facebook, Airbnb, Uber) user experience is manifested through the interaction design and interface of their website & apps and is mostly the star of the UX show. This recent image shows the digital emphasis on User Experience, which is often the (mis)understanding of what UX is all about:
Wikipedia claims "User experience design encompasses traditional human-computer interaction (HCI) design, and extends it by addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users". UX design origins can be arguably traced to Don Norman when he was responsible for Advanced Technology at Apple and his role in product user-experience, further outlined in his book "Psychology of Everyday Things" (1988). As much as I want to lean on digital as a driver of UX design, I strongly believe user experience is much more than digital, even in a digital environment, and is the sum of all experiences, extending from product to branding to communications to customer service.
During a recent introduction visit to a world leading financial software provider, I was rather impressed to learn that they have recently grown their UX department from a handful of designers to over 200 people, many of whom have management roles and are integrating and influencing colleagues across the organisation. When I asked the Head of Design “what about the other design functions?” he looked back with a kind of blank stare. I had to then clarify “you know, (3D) packaging design, (2D) graphic design”? The answer was somewhat expected, obvious, and rather discouraging: packaging and graphics were sitting in the other buildings, completely disconnected, working under marketing. Yet again, the ominous silos.
While I understand in this case the main product is digital, we always strongly advocate that all touch points with the company/brand should be seamlessly developed and integrated to deliver an optimal user experience. Even while most software services go to the clouds, retail partners will still require a physical product/packaging of some sort to fill their physical shelves. And this is part of the overall experience and brand perception.
Further on the subject of digital landscapes, I recently attended a rather good conference in San Francisco titled 'Managing Experiences', ran by a leading UX design and consulting firm. The event had a rather extensive line up of reputable and respectable speakers. I was inspired by their efforts to position design into their respective companies. Although, being in San Francisco and near Silicon Valley, most of the representation was weighted towards the digital front. Even in this context, I was very much enlightened to hear the bold statement from Katie M. Dill, Head of Experience Design at Airbnb, who claimed in her presentation that ”90% of their users’ experiences happen outside of the website”.Seems they are on the right path and have both an interesting challenge and great opportunity ahead to utilize design to develop & deliver improved user experiences across the entire journey.
Most of the attendees I met at the conference were coming from a digital function, and were managing departments of web developers, programmers and interaction designers, much like the above illustration. I did happen to overhear a great statement made by a participant at one of the workshops, in which he stated: 
“We no longer have a user experience role in our organization. User Experience is the outcome of many roles, including marketing, sales, service and design”.
In a recent LinkedIn post by UX designer Martino Liu, Martino claims “Most of the time, people confuse UX designer with a highly skilled programmer individual and a strong engineering background. The following chart shows the real thing”.
I tend to like Martino’s viewpoint, however this model seems to me suspiciously similar to the Design Thinking lens of Desirable, Viable & Feasible. A Design Thinking approach will certainly help deliver an optimal user experience, but this model implies to me that UX is again the star of the show. In my opinion, a good deal of emphasis should be made on User Experience design (management) as a strategic influencer & integrator across the journey.
When we work with clients in various consumer goods industries, digital is only one element of the overall user experience. The main experience is in the product itself (e.g. the ice cream flavor & texture, the shampoo scent and lather, the feel and sound of the clicking bricks, etc.) along with packaging, point of sale and [marketing] communications. It is in these environments where the understanding and interpretation of User Experiences gets pretty confusing. Nowadays in an omni-channel environment, the digital and physical blur, and digital is often an element incorporated in many touch points. Even packing nowadays may have a digital element integrated in it (for example LEGO augmented reality packaging).
A simple model we use at PARK is putting the user in the center surrounding them with all of the touch points they may encounter on their journey. Each one of these touch points needs to be designed and developed and seamlessly integrated with one another. This is the often the job of the (UX) design manager. However, please do not misinterpret the role of the design manager in large complex organizations. In the grand scheme, typically the responsibilities of the (UX) design manager are to drive the product/pack/formula portion while influencing or informing the “other” functions in hopes that their output is aligned with the overall design/experience intent. Too often, this is where we see the user experience being compromised, by no proper alignment or breaking down of functional silos during the development.
How your customers feel about your brand is in fact due in large to the product experience, which may or may not be largely digital, but is also heavily influenced by all other experiences along their journey. So, depending where in the world you are (industry wise), User Experience could be interpreted differently. However, like design thinking going off in different directions, I hope that the design community comes to an early consensus and clearly communicates what exactly is UX [design]. I like to put forward the claim that UX is:
“the sum of all activities that a user encounters in the process of researching, identifying, buying, sharing and interacting with a product, brand and service”.
What’s your interpretation?

Design Management & Innovation Specialist | Educator

Why Do We Like Brands As Much As We Like People?

We’ve all done it: used the L-word in reference to a certain favorite brand. The common assumption is when we say "I love Coke" (or whatever product we fancy), we’re using love as a lazy stand-in for whatever true, presumably lesser emotion we’re feeling—"contributing to the trivialization of the word," as Don Draper once vented. But what if consumers who say they love a brand actually mean it with the same emotional intensity they do when referring to a beloved person?
It’s a "vital question" that a research trio from Bergische University Wuppertal in Germany, led by marketing scholar Tobias Langner, recently tried to answer. True to Don’s instinct, Langner and colleagues concluded by way of several measures that interpersonal love is far more intense than brand love. No big surprise there, but the work did lead to an unexpected discovery: brands might not pack the emotional punch of a loved one, but they do produce similar feelings to someone we like.
"The emotionality evoked by loved brands is just as intense as that evoked by a close friend," report Langner and company in the journal Psychology and Marketing. "Moreover, consumers experience emotions in a brand love relation that are even more positive than those evoked in close, interpersonal liking relationships."

The researchers first approached the question with structured interviews of 60 study participants about brands and people they loved and liked. They noticed some similarities in the way participants discussed humans and items: those that were loved felt indispensable, triggered caretaking instincts, and enhanced a moment or experience. But beloved brands were described in rational, highly reciprocal terms—the good had to give something back to the consumer—whereas interpersonal love could be selfless and emotionally one-sided.
Both brands and people did produce positive emotions, but even the strongest brand love didn’t meet the extremes of person love. When independent coders analyzed the interviews for emotional statements, they found emotions present in every single accounts of an interpersonal love relationship. The same was only true for 90% of "close friend" relations, and 83% of "brand love" relations. (The figure was 67% for brands we merely like.)
"Compared with their motivations for interpersonal love, consumers are more driven by rational benefits when they love a brand," write Langner et al. "Although interpersonal relations might be benefit-driven too, the anticipated benefits in interpersonal relations tend to be emotional in nature."

The problem with relying on interviews about love is that, almost by nature, it’s a difficult emotion to articulate. So as a follow-up study, the researchers went straight to the feelings themselves. They recruited 20 test participants in committed relationships and showed them a series of pictures: the romantic partner, a good friend, a brand they claimed to love, and a similar product they just liked. The researchers captured skin arousal measures via electrodes during the viewing, and later performed an emotional assessment designed to gauge intensity and positivity.
The physiological tests confirmed what the interviews had suggested. When participants saw a picture of a loved person, they felt significantly more intense emotions than when they saw their fave brand, as indicated by skin arousal and emotional assessment. Loved ones made us all tingly; loved things, a little less so. "Thus … interpersonal (romantic) love and brand love constitute different emotions," they conclude.
But the surprise came when the researchers compared responses to beloved brands with those of close friends. They found no measurable difference in terms of skin arousal, nor in terms of emotional intensity. And on the positivity assessment, the loved brand actually produced warmer vibes than a good pal did. "Thus," they write, "the assumption that close interpersonal relations generally evoked more positive emotions than brand relations was not confirmed." (As expected, emotional arousal, intensity, and positivity for a loved brand were all greater than for a liked brand.)
The researchers consider some of their results preliminary. Both studies, but especially the bodily test, had fairly small sample sizes. Actual contact with people or brands might have elicited different physiological responses than the pictures did. And the terms like and love remain not only relative from person to person but variable within an individual.
But it’s probably wise to think about what message you’re sending a spouse or romantic partner next time you say you literally love a brand. Not to mention your best friends.


The Makings Of A Great Logo

Six questions to ask yourself when designing a brand

Your company's logo is the foundation of your business branding. It is probably the first interaction that you will have with your customers. An effective logo can establish the right tone and set the proper ethos. After years of crafting logos for different projects, I've come up with a set of questions that I always ask myself before delivering a new logo.

Above all design guidelines, the most important criterion is whether the logo reflects the character of the company. The emotions that the logo evokes should be appropriate to the company values. For example, the Disney logo evokes a sense of happiness and optimism. The curvy, fun typeface is appropriate for a company that has been making cartoons and animated pictures for kids. However, a similar logo style on a sales platform would not be appropriate.

Designers should understand the psychology of colors and the effect that typeface has on the design of a great logo. For example, green promotes relaxation and usually reflects growth, health, and the environment. Red, on the other hand, may evoke danger and passionate emotions. Similarly for typefaces, Garamond, Helvetica, and Comic Sans all elicit very different sentiments. Serif fonts like Garamond promote the idea of respect and tradition, and are hence more suitable for an environment that demands integrity such as a university or a news publisher. Sans Serif fonts like Helvetica are clean and modern, and are well suited for high-tech businesses. Casual script fonts like Comic Sans are probably best left for fun companies such as toy companies. A good understanding of the psychology of colors, typefaces, and shapes is an important part of making a great logo.

The styling of the Disney logo is appropriate for a company that aims to be fun, but such a style would not be appropriate for a sales platform company.

Behind every great logo is a story. A great logo is not about slapping your business name on a generic shape, which is why choosing from ready-made logos is a poor idea. A logo has to have a meaningful story. A good designer first understands the culture of the company, the tone of the product, and the vision of the business, much before embarking on ideas for the logo. The end result of a quality logo is reflective of the philosophy and values of the company.

The arrow in the logo represents that Amazon sells everything from A to Z and the smile on the customer's face when they buy a product.

How will the logo look in two, 10, 20 years? Designers should avoid getting sucked into flavor-of the-month trends. Trends like ultra-thin fonts and flat shadows are design styles that will probably not stand the test of time. Simple is far better than complex. A simple yet memorable logo can be used in 20 years without looking dated.
A good way to test the logo is to let it sit with you for a while before releasing it. Some logos grow with you--the more you look at it, the more you like it. Some logos start to feel nauseating after a while--the more you look at it, the more you hate it. If after a couple of weeks with the logo you find it boring, the logo is probably not strong or timeless enough.

The simplistic outline and shape of the Apple Inc. logo allows it to endure the test of time. The first prototype of the logo would definitely not be suitable today.

A great logo is distinctive, memorable, and recognizable. Even if you have only seen it once, you should still be able to remember what it looks like after a period of time. A good way to test this is to show your logo to a friend, then cover it up and have your friend describe the logo in a week. A fresh pair of eyes can be very effective in figuring out the most memorable components of a logo.
In addition, if the logo reminds you of others you have seen, it is not distinct enough.

The logos of Path and Pinterest are very similar.

When I begin designing a logo, I always start in black and white. Designing with this limitation first forces you to make sure that the logo is recognizable purely by its shape and outline, and not by its color. A strong logo is one that is still memorable just by its contours.
A one-color logo also provides the benefit of using your brand easily in multiple mediums with different backgrounds and textures.

It is much harder to recognize the National Geographic symbol once we remove its signature yellow color.

Another way to make sure logos are simple and recognizable is to scale it down dramatically. Even at tiny resolutions, a strong logo should still be recognizable at a glance. This is also a good test to make sure that the logo is not complicated with unnecessary design flourishes. Here, you see that the Nike, McDonalds, Twitter, and WWF logos are still very distinct at small sizes. The GE and Starbucks logos are far more cluttered, and less recognizable when they are small.

These are not hard-and-fast rules, just guidelines for making an effective logo. It is still possible to make a strong, complicated logo, but understand the trade-offs.

Great Branding Is Invisible

 “The devil is in the detail” is a cliché that happens to be true, but let’s turn it around: The magic is in the detail. What constitutes quality in a product, besides the raw materials you choose? The attention paid to detail.
Look at a knock-off Gucci handbag and consider its original counterpart: The difference, besides the “leather” chosen, is in the stitching, the inside lining, the zippers, and so on. In short, quality resides in the hidden details that aren't obvious to most--until you touch the product and look at it up close. It's craftsmanship that gives luxury fashion brands longevity and which lets them weather trends.
Brands are no different from the products and services that they represent. Frantically searching for the one “Unique Positioning Statement (UPS)” or logo design that is going to simultaneously sum up precisely what your company stands for and differentiate it from the rest of the pack is in some ways a meaningless battle. Taglines may be catchy, but they don't, in the end, make people buy products. What determines whether a woman buys Chanel No. 5 or Issey Miyake's L'Eau d'Issey Florale? Not taglines but how either smells on her skin.
What makes you so special?
What makes your brand unique and better than the competition is the compounded totality of many little things. That means you can’t just consider the attention given to producing an outstanding service or product--you also have to think about how the sales force and support team treats its customers and how the receptionist answers the phone.


The Jawbone UP24 fitness tracking device is a good example. After diligently tracking my sleep, workout regime, and diet, I became properly addicted to the wristband and to its accompanying iOS app. When the band suddenly stopped working, after three months, I flew into a minor panic. All my data (and exercise momentum) would be lost, I worried. But Jawbone turned out to have an excellent support system. They troubleshot the problem with me seamlessly, on email and over the phone. They used human beings, not robots. I followed the progress of my issue via a concise thread on their support ticketing system. After they quickly exhausted all possible solutions and saw that the device was still malfunctioning, they shipped me a replacement band immediately. I became loyal to the brand thanks to the humane and efficient treatment I received. The extra attention taken by Jawbone to make sure that their staff was professional and courteous--while making sure that I never got lost in a maze of telephone drones or automated emails--made a huge difference.
Keep the details invisible.
It’s the combination of myriad details that shapes brand image in the minds of customers. These details may be transmitted subconsciously. Not everyone recognizes that hand stitching makes a serious difference. Expertly executed details, imperceptible to most, should create a sense of magic and wonder. Think of an up-market German car, such as an Audi, BMW or Mercedes. When you are at the BMW showroom and you step into, say, a 5 Series model, the satisfyingly clean thumpf sound that the door makes as you shut it signifies quality. There’s no rattling, no sound of sheet metal being slammed, just that confidence-inspiring, compact sound. It’s the sound of outside noise and discomfort being sealed off while you enter a safe, comfortable place. Behind the steering wheel are carefully wrought details, too: the smell, the way the seat feels, the feel of your hands on the steering wheel, the way the dashboard buttons have a certain resistance, and so on.

For those who remember, think about the perfect resistance and muted click of the Hewlett-Packard scientific calculator buttons, compared to their competitors Casio and Texas Instruments. The latter two companies clearly hadn’t spent a lot of energy thinking about what it would feel like to press down the keys. And it made a difference.
Advertising and branding should be thought of in the same way. Yes, the big idea is important, but success hinges on its execution, consistency, and attention to each and every word. Do define the brand with succinct messaging, but also trust that consumers will recognize the collective positive attributes of the brand rather than just its tagline. Make sure your communications are well crafted and recognizable. All touch points need to be carefully considered, down to every HTML email campaign.

Apple and Crate & Barrel stand out as excellent examples of how to design the perfect email. Google’s emails, on the other hand, lack consistency and seem rather haphazardly generated. Emails from Apple and Crate & Barrel are advantageously laid out, with beautiful imagery that's logically arranged and information that's easy to digest (if not concise). They're not afraid to make us scroll; they don't cram content above the fold.
All these details, you may think, aren't invisible at all. What's really invisible is the brand's aptitude to carefully organize every detail, whether we see it or not. It all adds up, and that's a lot.