There is No Real Difference Between UX and Branding.
Image Credit: AMCTV
What is Branding?
When I was in design school, there was a class called 'branding' and we learned:
"product is made in a factory; a brand is made in the mind." - Walter Landor, founder, Landor Associates.
A brand is the essence or promise of what will be delivered or experienced. We learned that there are three touchpoints of a brand that leads to that experience: behaviour, appearance, language. This is what we learned in the print/ad world. By this definition I disagree completely with Wikipedia's definition.
Being in Silicon Valley, tech hub of the world, especially internet start-ups, everyone's trowing around the term 'user experience'. According to Wikipedia, User experience (UX) is about how a person feels about using a product, system or service. It got this one right.
It seems to me that branding and user experience is one in the same, just perceived differently. No one seems to think this way though. Branding, and any ad man would tell you this, has always been important so Silicon Valley might be playing catch up with this new emphasis on UX. I've always had tremendous respect for branding because the devil is in the details.
Here's why I think they're similar using the three touchpoints mentioned earlier:
Brand behaviour is the code of conduct towards client and public. Everything and everyone that interfaces with people outside the company is seen as its behaviour. In branding, it talks about the ways in which someone answers the phone, greets someone as they walk in, etc.
In UX, I believe it to be the same but it is applicable to not just employees of the company but to the product. Afterall, consumers are interacting with your product day in, day out ,not just the employees. Damn, in most cases, it's all they interact with. How the site behaves instantly communicates the brand of the company. Is it easy to use? Is the contact information easy to find? Is there any annoying pop-ups? Does any of the links take me where I don't expect? Is the navigation intuitive? Does the site greet me politely and informatively? All these tie into your brand's behaviour, don't you think? By definition, this is called UX. See where I'm going with this? Hold that thought.
The look and feel has always been important to good designers but now many are finding the use of consistency. Consistent design across all assets of the company creates an experience that's, well, consistent. You wouldn't go with beveled buttons on the main page then switch completely to flat ones on internal pages right? You wouldn't use colours that doesn't match the logo right? As designers, it's easy to understand how appearance impacts the experience.
Language and Tone
In branding it states that "tone and manner" or "voice" spans a company's entire system of verbal communication - from ad copy, taglines to press releases. Just the same, UX requires excellent copywriting to convey the right message and create the all important conversation. Tone is extremely important because many find that the response to 'join now' is different to that of 'sign up here' for example. Is this not an aspect of branding we're seeing in user experience?
Branding is UX
One could argue that UX goes beyond because it deals with usability. While that's true, usability fits perfectly into 'behaviour' - a touchpoint of branding. My conclusion in this thought process is that UX is an evolution to Madison Avenue type branding.
As my colleague at Keep Safe eloquently puts it, back then it was easy for advertisers to layer branding on top of a commodity. There's no difference between Pepsi and Coca Cola just like there's none between LivingSocial and Groupon. However, this is where branding has evolved into UX - it digs deeper and it requires it because the products in Silicon Valley are of the nature where you interact with them everyday. You don't just consume them.
UX seems to be a terminology that exists because it's more applicable to companies of the 21st Century. It's the new Brand and even Madison Avenue will succumb to it because advertising has also changed.
Why Design has taken Center Stage
It took Apple 40 years to convince the world of the power of good design. What Steve Jobs saw and understood 40 years ago is what the rest of us is now coming around to.
Everyone keeps talking about how design is important but I feel like they don't truly understand why. Design is a means to an end. It allows companies to achieve good branding because it helps creates compelling UX. Design by itself will not create the UX that's made of legend. Entrepreneurs finally realized this not because they discovered branding but because it was a necessity, a way to stand out in the crowd. It works and whatever works catches on.
Take for example, Airbnb's phenomenal design and UX that makes finding and booking a place to stay a please versus Craigslist. After all, Airbnb did use Craigslist content to get started therefore subjecting itself to a perfect example of how using branding - oh wait - user experience has differentiated it.
All in all, those are my thoughts. What are yours? Have you thought of UX this way before? While you think about it click to tweet.