Brand and UX – what form does the overlap take


A topic that floats to the surface on a regular basis in my work is the relationship between brand and UX; an interesting, evolving and somewhat contested territory.

One way to think about brand and experience is as representing  two different perspectives: the perspective of the business and the perspective of the people that use the service or product of that business or organisation. In the past they didn’t overlap as much as they do in the case of online service delivery (or service design generally), but as technologies and practices change some interesting tensions are coming into play [*]. There are two in particular that are recurrent for me at the present time.

The first is at the global organisation or company level, the territory of vision where things are strategic and frankly, largely abstract. The other is at local level, where you have the actual implementation of a specific, concrete project/touchpoint/service (it might be the implementation of one the strategies from the global above).

The battle at the top seems to centre around defining, or redefining a companies approach to business. Arguments laid out in books like Adaptive Path’s subject to change argue that companies need to move beyond brand, which is driven from an internal perspective, and instead think about experience. An experience strategy takes as its start point the perspective of the user. It understands and presents value from the outside in, not the inside out.

I completely agree with this argument, the bit I’m not sure about it how are people expecting the brand platform to integrate with the UX vision and strategy? Based on the conversations with peers from both branding and UX  people seem to think of one as a sub group of the other, depending on what their background is.

Well articulated brand strategies are important reference points for UX, they tells us important things about who the company wants to be and how they want to be portrayed.

Many of the things that @docbaty argues as central to an Experience Strategy such as vision and differentiation are already part of brand. The difference, he argues is perspective.  So do we throw out the brand platform? Or do we look to integrate them? Where is the overlap?  Is it just a matter of changing the brand vision from a company perspective to reflect a user experience perspective? There is no doubt that brand as we knew it before had its limitations in the landscape of interactive design. It wasn’t developed to account for the kinds of things its being asked to now. But does it die, evolve or become absorbed into UX, or something else?

In one of the presentations from IDEO there was a phrase about brand (and moving with the times) that captures some of this nicely “enable your brand through participation” (I’ll need to find the link), this kind of evolutionary approach sums it up well – I’m still interested in what that actually means for the documents and reference points we work with/develop on  daily project basis though…”guidelines” etc.

I’ve developed a few scenario based techniques to explore how brand and UX intersect – i.e how do you embody brand values in the service (I mean of course brand way beyond colour and logo etc) which I’ll write up and share as a follow up post.


Why is this (more of an) an issue now?

I’ll explain what I mean by this comment through a necessary over-simplification of the issues. In the olden days of communications design from where many interactive agencies stem, design was about communicating a message. The materials we designed were predominately marketing, promotion, information or advertising material. For example it might be advertising the services of a bank, of your local council, a suicide hotline or of a charity. That could come in the form of print, tv or website etc. What we were designing was largely controlled and static. Even though you might be able to click on the website, the content was informational. We could apply the brand guidelines to these various implementations, (to be honest brand never really caught up to the web but…).Matters of design were (mostly) matters of communicating and promoting the service, not matters of delivering the service. The majority of the actual core services of those organisations on the other hand were delivered face to face or over the phone by humans. The people that worried about the delivery of the services and the people who governed the form and nature of how information about those services was shaped and communicated (brand & marketing) potentially had little to do with each other.

This has changed as the channels through which we deliver core services have started to merge with the platforms through which we used to use to communicate about that service. (i.e core services  are being delivered through web services and web applications). Suddenly branding people are involved (or more deeply involved) in conversations about how the service will look and operate.  The user experience and UI and so need to be “on  brand”.  This is not so bad for organisations like banks, or task orientated software were there are few variables for interaction and no user generated content. But when the service relies on participation and engagement by users (like peer support services or community consultation) more often than not there are clashes about control. Specifically people worry about looking bad from the comments of others, or that some form of brand abuse will result from relinquishing control.

People who have worked in community service delivery and consultation completely get that you need to give ownership to participants in order for such things to be successful, for many (though absolutely not all) brand and marketing this a relatively new lesson. I have often had clients come and say we want to be more participatory, but then have brand representatives really struggle with letting go control. It is relatively recent that brand and core service delivery have played so closely together (for service organisations).

You simply can’t apply brand rules, or control brand in the same way to core service delivery (where participation is a central factor) as you could when it being used to shape information and communication collateral. These relationships are being further disrupted by shifts towards co-creation, open innovation and service design.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *