Branded Interaction: The New Domain of User Experience
By: Samo Ayoub
(Originally Published in Brand Magazine July Issue)
Brand Interaction: Any exchange between a brand and an end-user.
Brand Interface: The landscape in which a user can “interact” with a brand.
Branded Interaction Designer: Concerned with the intent of a user’s interaction with a branded interface and how they can accomplish, and enhance this task.
In the golden age of branding aka advertising, branded interaction meant a business card or coupon booklet. Today businesses are wired, and to a large degree. A new and specific niche is emerging onto the commercial communications landscape: branded interaction design. As the industry works towards deepening the levels of engagement between brands and end-users, interactivity is more than essential, it’s an art form. And this isn’t restricted to the web or mobile hardware but can be seen in ATM machines, soda dispensers, cinemas, coffee shops, fast-food drive thrus, automobile dashboards, the list is rather endless. As our lives and digitalism become more entwined, the race for smarter more intuitive interfacing is intensifying and spawning a new breed of interaction designer. Why you may ask? For an answer, click the button marked “Demand”.
Adopt-ation: How Interface Design Entered the Brand Arena
In the beginning, it was the 1980s and two guys named Bill (Verplank and Moggridge) started looking at the user-interface design industry, soft-facing at the time, differently. Digital dashboards no longer looked like something from Star Trek requiring a post-doctorate in IT to understand. They were mass market-friendly platforms allowing computers to cooperate with ordinary users. As the internet entered the arena, it was quickly commercialized, and companies started copy/pasting their logos onto simple html websites. These sites were designed with basic wireframes and littered with product shots and promotional messaging etc. As solutions such as Flash, applets, and widgets entered the stage things evolved quickly. By the time mobile apps were slung on to belt clips, interaction became a fundamental consideration of any multi-channel ad campaign. Competition between companies to produce more intuitive, streamlined, trendier and ultimately simpler interfaces have turned interaction design into a very fine art. A highly functional one too.
Now, as designers are asked to develop smarter, more creative interactions between clients and users a paradigm shift is taking place in the industry. The traditionally techie space of interfacing is now the designer’s playground. Agencies and designers bring taste management to the table. An understanding of visual culture, style, and presentation. Something programmers and developers have limited, if no, exposure to. This wave of aestheticism has washed away the oversaturated message space and a tide of sophistication has drifted towards market interaction. The results are visually dynamic, high-concept interaction experiences that are truly raising the bar.
Medium is the Message. Brand is Interaction.
With so many channels and platforms for designers to work from choosing the right interface medium for a targeted market is often the first hurdle in a campaign. The term branded interaction suggests something digital but an interface can be anything. A business card, magazine ad, coupon book, coffee mug, t-shirt, billboard, pencil, discount plastic frisbee. As long as it communicates a brand to a potential client or demographic it is a branded interface and an interaction has taken place. But that is a literal viewpoint. Conventional usage suggests technological sophistication and precision. Re: an electronic screen of some sort. Re: re: something that “Beeps” when you activate it.
The most commonly branded interface is of course a company website but the times they have been a changin’. Since Apple’s epically innovative, industry-bending mobile designs from the previous decade companies in all industries have been taking user interaction more seriously. Cluttered, crowded, purely functional digital read outs have been replaced with streamlined, sleek interaction points across a variety of product lines. One notable example is the automobile dashboard. A traditionally competitive space, for decades dashboards have been designed with enough gauges, meters, barometers and other technical trivia to create for men the illusion of a cockpit. Or tank. Now the industry has really begun to ramp up the design side of the screen behind the wheel. Case in point, the latest cluster – industry term – found in Nissan’s Leaf. Ultra-stylish and intelligent the Leaf’s dashboard looks like something out of a sci-fi film. More spaceship than airplane, it is another example of the evolving field of interaction design and a point of reference for all interface designers.
However, interactive branding isn’t always where you expect it to be. A careful stroll through your local department store will reveal branded user interfacing on a host of products. Some of which have no history, or in some cases business, with interface design. Clothing irons, golf clubs, weight scales, toasters, tooth brushes. If information can be relayed through it, an interface will be designed to do so. Often favoring form over function, they are used to elevate the product’s technological cache, not to mention price. Occasionally an unconventional product can push innovation. Like the new Coca-Cola Freestyle Fountain vending machine. Outfitted with a retro branded shell, it features a UI with smart, minimalist design, and user-friendly navigation that is surprisingly intuitive for a soda dispenser. A progressive harmony of style and substance.
Just Alignment: The Do’s of Interaction Design
So what makes an effective branded interaction? The following are fundamentals for the market savvy designer to keep in mind:
- Strategy: Interactions have to be tactical in how they penetrate or continue to grow in a given market. One way to achieve this is innovation. Putting a clever new twist on a conventional product or service will always turn enough heads to create space in a given market. Truly innovate and you can pioneer a new market altogether.
- Engagement: The deeper a user is engaged with the interaction experience, the more he/she will begin to feel as if their brand is a “second skin”. Maximizing user autonomy and freedom within a branded interface is a good way to achieve this. The more participation a user has within a branded environment, the more liberated they will feel when it is time to make that purchase.
- Rewards: Providing consumers with a feeling that they have earned or otherwise won something is big. Being rewarded helps customers feel elated, and this is the most powerful incentive for anyone to buy anything. Not only does this motivate potential consumers to make a purchase, but also provides the added benefit of having them associate that feeling with your brand. A double entendre!
- Brand Values: An interaction designer has to define or otherwise incorporate a company’s values into every brand/consumer exchange. The experience should always accurately represent the philosophy of a given brand and, to some extent, the consumer’s idea of what that brand stands for.
- Personalization: Customization is extremely effective when it comes to deepening a consumer/brand relationship. By allowing consumers to integrate their own tastes into a branded interaction, you are essentially providing them with an avenue to help shape the experience. Customer participation can foster feelings of ownership and strengthens the bonds a consumer has with a given brand.
Don’t React. Interact.
Branded interaction as a field and practice is going to keep coming. Technological progress is creating a landscape of limitless potential and there’s no way of predicting where things are headed. As branded interfaces pop up everywhere in people’s lives, consumers have become increasingly desensitized to brand messaging and too media savvy to trick. This phenomenon has forced designers to push innovation and create new and engaging interaction opportunities. While there is no way of accurately predicting what these new interactions will be there may be a way to know how the branding industry will be affected. To find out please click the button marked “Refresh”.