The UI Is The Message

Posted by Taylor Haney on Mon, Sep 16, 2013

Continuing on with our UX and Design blog theme we have a really insightful post from Jeff Chausse, Lead User Experience Designer at Boston Interactive. Jeff provides tactics for how Marketers and UX Designers can best work together to benefit a company overall. If you're interested in guest blogging please e-mail me at taylor [at] mitx [dot] org.

BostonInteractive JeffChauseJeff Chausse (@JeffChausse) is Lead User Experience Designer at Boston Interactive, a digital marketing agency based in Charlestown, MA.  He previously served as Web Director at Harmonix Music Systems, managing and other web properties, and as Digital Technology director at Hill Holliday, where he worked on projects for major corporations and non-profits including Liberty Mutual, TJX, MFA Boston, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

What is the role of the User Experience Designer in marketing brands? There’s a seemingly inherent conflict between UX design, which advocates for the goals of the user, and marketing, which advocates for the goals of a business.

Often this conflict results in bland experiences in which a site or app’s interface is completely divorced from the message being conveyed. The brand message is delivered purely via content, and the User Interface (UI) is just along for the ride.

Another possible outcome is a UI driven by “dark patterns”, where the interface simply becomes a way to trick users into unwittingly obeying the wishes of the business. This can lead to easy profits (and can actually be creatively challenging for the UX Designer), but can ruin a company’s reputation in the long term.

But there’s a third way that Marketers and UX Designers can work together – delivering creative, compelling experiences which serve the goals of both the user and the brand.

Every brand exists because a company believes someone’s life can be improved by thinking about something in a particular way. And every interaction with a brand either reinforces or undermines that message. When representing a brand, it is the UX Designer’s job to ensure that the company’s philosophy is presented as consistently and coherently as possible, in every interaction with a user.BostonInteractive TheUIistheMessage

In performing this role, the UX Designer is empowering users — enabling them to embrace or reject the presented ideas in an expedient and well-informed way.

I recently designed a “member’s portal” for a chain of high-tech fitness clubs. The company’s custom-built exercise machines led users through unique, personalized exercise plans, recording and analyzing the details of every workout by every member, since the company’s inception. A web geek’s first reaction would be to give members a dashboard of tools to analyze their data in innumerable different ways.

But this company also had a powerful brand message that resonated with its members. Their clubs were for people who didn’t want to think about exercise, didn’t want to worry about what they should do next, and didn’t want to be harassed for not living up to a personal trainer’s expectations.

This led to a portal design which intentionally excluded a lot of advanced functionality. You weren’t allowed to view future exercise programs beyond a limited timeframe (intimidating to users who don’t want to think beyond their next session). The complex formula used to boil down your performance to a single number was never revealed (you were just told how to improve it), and features which nagged the user about not exercising frequently or intensely enough were absolutely forbidden (exercise was supposed to be an inherently positive experience, never something to be done out of guilt).

Every feature we avoided was a feature that could have been a great addition – for a different brand. Every feature we considered was neither “right” nor “wrong”, just on-brand or off-brand.

As a UX Designer, don’t assume that brand messaging is solely the job of content. Is the brand you’re working with all about motivation or relaxation? Is it about simplicity or flexibility? Is it about short-term or long-term thinking? Is it about logical analysis or emotional contemplation? All of these attributes can be reflected in a user interface, long before the content is plugged in. To create a great brand experience, don’t just present the message via the UI, embody the message within the UI.

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