User experience design is an essential part of any digital project. It’s crucial to the success of any website and app. It’s a critical component of any software or application company’s approach and product.
What it’s not is a place where a great brand is conceived or built.
As a branding firm, we’re typically in competition with other agencies for branding projects. But, of late, we’re baffled to be consistently competing with UX design firms for projects in which branding is the central piece and website design one of many deliverables. This is not to say these other agencies are incapable of the work, but it does show an inherent misunderstanding of the purpose and function of a great brand.
Branding and user experience are polar opposites. UX is a delivery mechanism. A great user experience is one that is seamless and simple. So simple, in fact, the goal is for the experience itself to be unobtrusive and intuitive – which is the same as saying inherently not unique. User experience design is about employing best practices, common language and data-driven theories to help users move through a process with as a few delays or obstacles as possible.
Branding is the exact opposite of this desire and goal. A brand should have a unique position, perspective and evoke an emotional connection (yes, even a B2B brand should evoke an emotional connection). The process of creating or relaunching a brand is a process of identifying opportunities to stand out, to approach things differently and to showcase the culture, aspirations and capabilities of a company in a way no competitor can duplicate.
If your brand is exactly like a competitor’s brand, then you need to either merge with that competitor or find a way to communicate what makes you different. Have an opinion. Put a stake in the ground. The only people who should be striving for sameness are counterfeiters.
The tech industry is a perfect example of UX branding. Flat icons and saturated colors, open layouts and clean lines. The space is flooded with sameness, to the extent these “brands” are indistinguishable. It becomes impossible to tell two cloud competitors apart because they both have a cloud logo, clean white space with a sky blue accent color, maybe an orange button if they’re really out there. These are well-tested, data-driven brands. But maybe that’s the problem. According to Seth Godin, “data paves the road to the bottom”. And isn’t that what all the user experience design-driven brands are doing? Taking the art and uniqueness out of branding?
It’s all so literal because, to appeal to the average customer, you have to use tried and true cliches. There’s no room for nuance in mass appeal. And yet, that’s where differentiation and – brace yourselves – disruption are built upon. Contrast. Divergence. Contradiction.
There is a time and place for UX design. For examining structures and strategies to ensure you are reaching your customers in the most effective and impactful ways. But, with UX or branding, you get out what you put in. Best practices are designed to get the most consistent average possible.
Average has never produced a compelling brand.