Experiencing Refresh

I just moved three weeks ago from the Central New York snowbelt. The opportunity to work with the talented Viget team coupled with promises of a winter that did not involve shoveling and longjohns was too good to pass up. Since I'm the new girl in town, last night's Refresh the Triangle event was a great way for me to get out and meet some interesting people. We watched a virtual seminar by Jared M. Spool, founder of User Interface Engineering. The seminar, “Strike Up the Brand: How Smart Design Can Strengthen Your Brand,” had a lot of suggestions for reinforcing and strengthening a company's brand through the online experiences we create. His team's usability research produced plenty of data showing that when designing sites, brand experience is what we should be focusing on rather than brand elements such as the logo, typeface, or big glossy photos. Brand experience is about the emotional and intellectual associations people make with a company, and it goes well beyond marketing messages. It helps businesses create a loyal, committed following. Companies I consider to have a brand experience include Apple, Starbucks and Target. As a customer I am willing to pay more for things or to tolerate problems (like three broken iPods in four years) because of the many positive experiences I have had with them. To make a company's online brand experience enjoyable, we need to strive for a few key things. Namely:
  • Remove frustrations. Make it easy for users to reach their goals. Don't let marketing messages or internal jargon confuse the site or make it harder to move through. Don't add extra bells and whistles if they're taking away from the overall usability of the site.
  • Add delight. Make hard jobs easier by thinking of new and innovative (maybe even fun?) ways to solve old problems.
  • Conduct user testing. Even if it's a small project and you can't afford formal usability studies, you can always round up a few of your less tech-savvy friends and family members willing to help out. What we as designers and developers think is intuitive might not be to some people. What the client thinks customers want or need might not be what they're actually looking for. Look at analytics data to help pinpoint problem areas, and then simplify them as much as possible.
In short, we need to help our clients think of their web sites as more than just online brochures or kitchen-sink repositories for information. I found Jared's seminar very worthwhile, and the conversation that it sparked within the group was great; it made me feel lucky to be a part of the web community here in Durham. I'm looking forward to settling in at Viget and exploring the Triangle in the weeks to come. I hope to meet more of you at the next Refresh event!

Mindy is a managing art director in our Durham, NC, office. She emphasizes clarity, communication, and connection for client such as The Nature Conservancy.

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