Five years ago, if you had told a client that you were going to start their digital project with wireframes, research and the development of a content strategy, they would have told you to stop wasting their money. They just wanted a site that put them online. It was a time when user experience design was relatively unknown by the general public. These days, however, anyone who makes web sites, apps, or any other form of digital media will offer this as a primary service. Our clients are generally pretty happy with what we’ve come up with. But have we put too much focus on content strategy and user experience that we’ve lost visual human element of design? Are our designs falling flat in translating brand experiences into the online world?
I would argue yes. We’ve fallen short on our promises of bringing brands online in all their hype and glory.
With many well-established brands in their tenure of being present in the digital world and having extreme commercial offline success for so many years by establishing brands personas that spans over generations, we are seeing these brand personas getting lost in translation from offline to digital. Take Coca-Cola, for example, who has worked for over a hundred years to create a brand that is fun, refreshing and brings happiness when you drink a bottle. You see this message in their print ads and TV spots with fun innovative stories that end with everyone enjoying a coke. But then you come to their website and you are struck with solid content and a corporate site that could be for anything really. Sure it matches its brand colours, and symbols. But swap those two things out and replace it with anything else and now it’s a completely different site using Coke’s site architecture. The site also does quite well from a user experience based on a solid strategy. The user can fairly easily find their way from point A to point B depending on the content they are looking for. Where the site lacks greatly is in presenting the user with the Coke brand persona. Where’s my happiness that coke tells me I will have when I enjoy a coke? Where’s the brand experience?
Coke isn’t alone. The majority of sites or online brand experiences fall short of their offline promises. We, as web designers, have put so much focus on the user experience and content being the king that we’ve forgotten or simply overlooked one of the biggest pieces of a successful digital experience…The Human Experience.
We are naïve to think that we are able to create these human experiences by showing some stock shots of people having a good time or using the product, because this doesn’t get the user involved. Where is the ability for them to fulfill the brand promise while they browse?
For those of you who have moved from print to digital over the years, you’ll remember back to a time where you used to focus ideas around the audience you were speaking to, either by telling an engaging story or by surprising them with something shocking. But one thing you did was focus on appealing to the human on the other end of your brand message. When we moved to the web, we left that skill behind. Even if you still switch between online and offline worlds, you will usually approach one design differently than the other. You may not even realize you’re doing it. In fact, until recently I never realized I was doing it. But it happens.
You can argue that we left the human out of the equation because the coding languages available to us or even the limitations of the web browser. But we can’t use those excuses any more with the introduction of HTML5 and browsers adding significant CSS3 support. We have options now. These code bases are only limited by our own imaginations.
Our industry has worked tirelessly to get our clients, coworkers and everyone we engage with to understand why we research and wireframe, A/B test and prototype. But now that these audiences are aware of what our processes are, we need to bring back our focus to the human using our sites, apps or other digital media. It should be a given that you will provide clients with excellent user experience and a solid content strategy base. We don’t need to harp on this anymore. The majority of clients get it. Time to put some extra effort into properly translating the offline brand personas into their digital form. I urge you to remember the human on the other side of the screen who wants to experience the brand in all its glory and brand promises. Don’t leave these individuals unsatisfied because you’ve only scratched the surface of what is possible in offering your clients brand online.