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Conventional User Experience Means Diminished Brand Experience

Tuesday, June 28, 2011 - 11:07

Last summer at the Boston Design4Drupal conference and again at DrupalCon Chicago I had the pleasure of watching Jared Spool speak about web usability. He is the kind of presenter that sneaks up on you with a dry subject matter but leaves the crowd rolling with laughter as he quips his way through examples of UX failures.

Among the lessons learned from Spool was the idea that there is sometimes a gap between what users know, and what they need to know to operate your site. That is where we call upon design to bridge the gap.

Unfortunately, I feel that many have simply opted to eliminate the gap by adhering to conventions as a means to flatten the user's learning curve. Problem solved, right?

Well, the results can sometimes make the web feel a little generic. So many sites leverage the same basic layout, functionality and experience that it can undermine our ability to distinguish between one brand and another.

Look at it in non-web terms and try to imagine if every store in the mall had the same experience. I give you Apple and Radio Shack as our examples. Lets say their logos and graphic equities remain unchanged. The only difference is that Apple has to adopt Radio Shack's user experience. I'm talking about the same floor plan, merchandising and even the same customer service.

Suffice it to say that Apple, even with the same logo would suffer as a brand because its previously outstanding user experience was derivative of that brand. The open floor plan, ready to use product, and the Genius Bar drew from their 'it just works' mentality. That is what makes it unique and exceptional.

The Web is no different. When we homogenize for the sake of UX familiarity we are missing the opportunity to use these areas of our design to tell the brand's unique story and emphasize its values.

The trick I feel is to recognize that user experience, and brand experience are not locked in a zero sum game. We should aspire to both. At worst we will be skewered by Jared Spool for trying. At best your user experience will be memorable, meaningful, and better than Radio Shack.

John Gavula
Contributed By John Gavula

John is the creative director of Gavula Design. He has provided design and illustrator services for many of New York and the region's biggest brand consultancies. Leveraging this experience, and his multidisciplinary background he now works closely with Gavula Design’s clients as a trusted branding partner and steward.