Whether you know it or not, user experience (UX) is already part of your brand. When people visit your site, they make associations with your organization based upon their experience. Often, the only interaction they have with your organization is through your website, and there is often little or no separation between your website and your organization itself.
If your site is easy to use and the content is worthwhile, your audience will project their positive experience onto your brand. But if they are frustrated, confused or disappointed, they will transfer those negative emotions instead.
Here are some tips for how to start aligning user experience with your brand strategy.
For many, the first step is to make sure UX is part of the discussion. Marketing and design teams are often responsible for creating and maintaining a brand. Unless you are working with a dedicated UX designer, don’t assume someone else is thinking of ways to bring together the brand and UX.
If you’re lucky enough to be part of a team that is already moving in this direction, then you’re off to a great start! If not, don’t worry. Here is an overview of how to make it happen:
- Find out who's responsible for your brand at your organization and talk to them about incorporating UX into the overall brand strategy
- Make sure brand UX is part of the timeline, budget and skill set of your team
- Come up with a few specific ways you can use UX to reinforce the brand (use the tips below as a starting point)
- Review and revise your UX strategy throughout the process to make sure it aligns with your brand
There is no magic potion that makes it all happen at once. Whether you’re working on a team or alone, the key is to just get started.
Tips for Brand UX
Start a Conversation
When a user comes to your site, they are starting a conversation with your organization. It’s the equivalent of a customer walking up to a salesperson, a student talking to an admissions counselor, a prospective member talking to a representative. Your website should do what any of these folks would do in person: greet them, ask how they can help, listen to their requests, ask for clarification if necessary, and then help them directly or give them the information they need to help themselves.
- Make sure the tone and voice follows brand guidelines
- Include answers to common questions your audience has when they come to your site
- Provide clear links to common actions
Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Government starts the conversation by asking how they can help, and then anticipates responses by giving a variety of ways to find answers to questions.
Websites are made by people. Organizations are made up of people. Your audience consists of people. You don’t have to pretend to be a robot or a disembodied corporate voice. Your audience will be able to connect with your organization better if they feel that it is made up of people who understand and care about them. If your brand is on the serious side, you can still be personable without being unprofessional.
- Avoid passive voice
- Write in the first person unless there is an important reason not to do so
- Be conversational and use language that is familiar to you and your audience
Baltimore Collegetown Network connects with their audience by being direct and writing in a friendly and personable tone of voice.
Make a Joke
A common trend in UX is humor. Even if humor is not a main attribute of your brand personality, it can still be a useful way to connect with your audience. If you use the kind of humor that resonates with your audiences, it’s a good sign that you’ve done your homework.
- Use humor to make error messages less painful
- Entertain someone while they wait for a long screen to load
- Don’t take things too seriously; try to make dry or boring content more engaging through humor
York College softens the frustration of getting an error page by blaming it on the school’s number one fan, Screamer.
Try taking the classic web writing advice and reduce copy to a minimum. Make life easier for your audience, and show them that you respect their time by not forcing them to read redundant or irrelevant copy.
- Be vigilant about editing every line of copywriting
- Remember that web writing can--and should be--more concise than traditional prose
- Use headings, lists and short sentences to avoid “walls of text”
Packard Center for ALS Research makes their About Us page easy to read by breaking text into short paragraphs and using plenty of white space.
Write Good Microcopy
Microcopy refers to small pieces of explanatory text (including headings, instructions, notifications, form labels and link or button text). It’s a popular topic in UX because it is essential for usability, but often overlooked. Microcopy provides key information your audience needs to find information and interact with the site.
- Use microcopy as an opportunity to reinforce your brand personality’s tone and voice
- Identify who will write microcopy, and plan for it in the schedule and budget
- Make sure your organization has a good style guide that helps you use consistent language for microcopy
Stevenson University uses a clear tagline and coordinated button text to emphasize the brand promise of preparing students for the future.
Make Interactions Easy
A good website experience is made up of hundreds of small interactions. Use intuitive navigation menus to give users clear pathways through your site. Make sure your forms are easy to read and complete.Take the time to design menus and forms that are aesthetically pleasing and minimal.
- Group related links together, and limit the number of options in a menu
- Avoid long forms by breaking them into sections or steps, and resisting the urge to ask too many questions
- Build search and filter options to give people alternative ways to find information
Johns Hopkins Health Review online magazine includes a simple dropdown form that allows users to request a print edition.
Be a Guide
Confusion should not be part of any organization's brand. Luckily the web is not a one-way street. As a user moves through your site, you can give them feedback to help guide and encourage them.
- Display friendly tips to reduce errors
- Make recommendations for related content
- Use interactive content to create useful and fun ways for your audience to find content and accomplish tasks
Howard Community College helps guide prospective students to the content they’re most interested in by letting them cross-search in different categories.
It’s tempting to look at brand UX as another facet of an already complex process. But it’s actually an exciting opportunity to be creative and differentiate your organization from competitors. Organizations and businesses in every field are creating unique, sophisticated brands by weaving together technology, visual design, marketing, user experience and even offline customer experience.
The payoff is worth it. You can build a powerful feedback loop where a strong brand draws the audience in and positive user experience defines their interactions--which ultimately reinforces your brand.