Recently I sat on a panel titled ‘UX’s role in great branding and how to get it right‘. The panel included Lawerence McCahill from Spook Studio, Jon Darke from Every Interaction, James Bloom a freelance Creative Director and discussion was chaired by Russell Vaught. The audience were a mix of start ups and UX professionals.

In summary we discussed why UX is important in terms of brand strategy, tone of voice, the importance of good UX to build trust and loyalty with an audience, start ups vs big organisations, good and bad examples of UX and branding, user testing, iterating products and where to start with the brand experience.

The evening finished up with pitches from three start ups who talked through their user experience problems. Hidden Little Gems, a facebook app suffered from button language and the limitations of Facebook, Bagservant faced problems with prioritising their brand message and Yoomoot struggled with their complex commenting system.

I thought I’d capture a few notes and key themes from the discussion.

Tone of Voice

Tone of voice is important. Get it right and you can engage and grow your target audience, get it wrong and people will be turned away and may never come back. The UX is can support the tone of voice in many ways. A playful UX can reflect the playful nature of a brand and so on.

For large organisations maintaining a consistent tone of voice can be tricky because of the heritage, legacy and multiple brands an organisation owns.

Radio 1 and Radio 4 are two stations that attract very different audiences and the UX is prioritised to support the two different audience needs. However, despite the diversity of brands the BBC’s tone of voice is maintained through the Global Experience Language (GEL). It’s the common thread that enables everything that the BBC does on digital platforms to hang together in terms of typography, interactions and design patterns.

Start ups have an advantage because they don’t have any legacy. They can evolve the brand and tone of voice over time. Dropbox is a good example. They have done a good job of making the complicated task of sharing files simple and the relationship between the UX and branding is really strong and supports the tone of voice they express through the copy and illustrations on their website and apps. Check out the tour of Dropbox as an example.

Why UX is important to brand strategy?

If I attempted to purchase something through a website and it was complicated, wasn’t secure and didn’t inform me whether or not my purchase had been successful then I wouldn’t trust the brand and I wouldn’t use the website ever again. This is why UX is important to brand strategy. Good UX is pivotal to building trust with audiences. If its a great experience that is engaging and reliable and then people are likely to use the product or service again.

User Experience beyond the website?

We moved into service design territory when we discussed how user experience needs to extend beyond just a website. Amazon was cited as an example of good customer experience not only online but also the service provided when calling them and returning products. Whether a start up is offering digital or physical products how they respond to their customers particularly when things go wrong is crucial to their success. This is something that can’t be automated and a human touch is often the best way to resolve issues.

User testing

Testing was an interesting area of discussion where we talked about how important testing early and iteratively is to refining a user experience. In terms of scale (e.g. number of participants and testing facilities) it depends on the project and the complexity of thing that you want to test. We also touched on the idea of A/B testing (or sometimes termed as split testing) and how that can also to refine different interactive features, layouts and positioning of buttons or calls to action. Stats also play a role in optimising the UX. Being able to track not only user journeys but also interactivity provides a rich insight into who is using what within a product or service.

Simplicity and transparency

It was mentioned a few times but generally a lot of what we were talking about was common sense. Build a brand and create a great experience around it to keep people happy and coming back for more.

Of course this is easier said than done. Many of the examples we cited are the result of refinement over time using a number of different methods including stats and testing.

Keeping a proposition simple is often the best way to launch a product or service. It’s easy to get carried away and try to cram lots of features. Being disciplined with what stays in and what doesn’t means that you can keep your audience engaged over time. Offer them the best possible user experience with a useful but initially minimum feature set and then introduce more features as you iterate and grow your audience.

Transparency is important to. Maintain a dialogue with your audience and keep them up to date. This helps with building anticipation for your next release and also when things go wrong your audience is more likely to bear with you while you get things right because the dialogue and trust has already been established.