Consumer Psychology, Design and the User Experience

usabilityCompanies hire corporate designers to craft solutions that clearly and memorably communicate their brand’s message, directly to their market. They understand that without a full comprehension of consumer psychology and the user experience (UX), they may as well be chucking paint into a corner.

Effective strategic design is somewhat like a composition written for a symphony orchestra, in that it requires several instruments working symbiotically in order to achieve the desired result.

What is User Experience? Dozens of definitions and formulas have been put forward over the years, but what they all have in common are the premises that (a) the customer experience is the ultimate loyalty/sales motivator – for better or for worse, and (b) that a positive user experience depends on the correct ratio of a number of different elements. It is only the labels given those elements that differ between theories.

For example, Robert Rubinoff’s definition contends that the user experience is made up of four factors:
* Branding
* Usability
* Functionality
* Content

Rubinoff argues that none of these factors in absence of the others can make for a positive user experience. While originally intended for the context of web design/development, this formula can also be extended to products and services.

Branding is at the forefront of what we do at Sage Media. Your brand is your identity – not only the aesthetic or visual elements of your business materials, but also the messages your company projects. It is your ethos. It is you.

Good branding provides customers with an engaging and memorable (positive) experience. Visually, it has a strong and instant impact that is consistent with your company’s brand identity. All of the graphics, collateral materials and multimedia used in your materials are carefully considered and tailored to your specific audience, adding relevant value to the experience.

If your branding is strong, it makes clear promises that your company consistently delivers on, and your materials all leverage the capabilities of their respective media to enhance or extend your company’s brand.

Usability has become a buzzword in the world of web design and development, yet I’ve found its execution to be somewhat less than elegant in most cases. There are thousands of web sites, newsletters, brochures and other business materials that are just as easy to use as they are useless, because the “designers” responsible simply stopped at usability, without consideration for appeal, aesthetics, connection, content, message, functionality or relevance.

Materials must be accessible to be effective. However, I see too many companies hiring separate ‘usability experts’ (because their designers don’t understand usability), and sorely unqualified designers (because they’re cheaper). What this causes is a perpetual war between someone who doesn’t understand design, and someone who doesn’t understand usability, which inevitably costs the company untold amounts of money and wasted time, and results in (at best) a product representative of a begrudging compromise.

Functionality should be a rather obvious requirement for any product, service or marketing piece. If it doesn’t work, doesn’t do what your customers need it to do, or expect it to do… it is bound to fail. This is kindergarten level stuff.

It can even be an issue as basic as cross-browser/platform compatibility for your website. Your visitors do not all use the same browser you do. They do not all use the same screen resolution that you do. Nor do they all use the same operating system or type of computer. Crafting code that ensures your website works and provides a consistent experience to the widest possible range of visitors requires a lot of extra work, but it is a requirement. If your developer tries to convince you that a given feature you want on your website requires you to block visitors not using, say, Internet Explorer… start looking for a new developer. Seriously.

Content, finally, is often said to hold a regal position when it comes to creating brand materials. While I might not necessarily go so far as to crown it as King, stellar content is indeed a crucial element in strategic design. Overlook it, and your brand becomes that initially gorgeous creature who makes you want to turn and run the second they open their mouth.

By the same token, content alone won’t get you far. The same words coming from a clean, impeccably dressed, attractive person behind a podium will have far greater weight, impact and credibility than they would coming from an unkempt, unpleasant looking person on a street corner.

Think of your content as the closer. If you’ve branded your company right, you’ll have their attention. Now you need to choose your words very carefully. Your credibility and your bottom line depend on it.

All said, this is just one of many formulas floating around in the ether. I like it because it’s clean, and easy to explain to my clients (most of whom are neither experts in design, marketing or psychology, though all very nice people).

The amount of psychology that goes into the design of everyday things would amaze most people. What I find amazing is the fact that so many people think they can create effective, influential design without understanding what motivates the people they’re trying to influence.

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