Brands Are Inside-Out, User Experience Is Outside-In
"The problem is that "brand" will always be about the impression companies want to make, and are by their nature an 'inside-out' proposition -- a company figures out its brand and what it means, and does what it can to communicate or otherwise impart that message to people. Brand always starts with the company."
Photo credit: Kuzma
"Wrong! This is a huge and common mistake amongst brand novices.
A company's brand is comprised of what the audience at large thinks the company is. This measure must be data-driven and include field research. The brand goal or aspiration, is what the company is hoping the audience at large will see.
The brand is in a book, in the style guide, or inside the brand managers head. The brand is the reality of the situation - not what the marketing staff is hoping for."
(Source: comment by Mark Schraad on Peter Merholz blog)
Who is right?
"...branding as a practice comes from advertising, and the vast majority of people when thinking about or engaging in brand work think about it as "how do I encourage a particular perception in the marketplace?" and thus, branding is very inside-out."
(Source: Peter Merholz reply to the above comment)
So, if branding is all about imprinting a pre-conceived idea and marketing profile onto an audience, thus being very inside-out, what is the value and role of experience design and how does it offer from traditional branding?
Taking pretext from content published online by the UK Design Council, Peter Merholz, one of user-experience most authoritative professionals takes a clarification stand on the key differences between branding and experience design.
Though difficult to grasp at first, experience design is more about the kind of experience users actually have than about controlling the experience you try to give them.
Another commenter (how great the value and wisdom of the crowd) summarized the issue in a crystal-clear statement:
"I'd distinguish between brand values - how the company/organisation wants to be perceived - and the brand experience, which is how customers actually perceive the organisation as a result of their experiences. When discussing experience design, your brand values might be your target; brand experience is the result in the minds of your audience."
(Source: Steve Baty's comment to the same issue)
Important stuff to think about if you want to communicate effectively and achieve equity while building a strong and loyal following. Here is Peter Merholz' official take on the matter:
"Yesterday I followed a link from the excellent Putting People First blog to the UK Design Council's discussion on experience design. Landing on that page, my heart sank, with my first thought being, "for f***'s sake, they're conflating experience design with brand experience."
The first sentence reads, "Experience design concentrates on moments of engagement between people and brands, and the memories these moments create."
This is a shameful reduction of the idea of experience design, and a bizarre turn of phrase -- people engage with "brands"?
I thought they engaged with companies or organizations. This demonstrates the designerspeak that can at times make designers easy to dismiss.
Now, if you read through the pages discussing experience design, there's a lot of good stuff to take away (or share with your executives, your client, whomever), about holistic and customer-centered relationship models, the importance of an experiential perspective, the value of cross-disciplinary approaches.
The problem is that "brand" will always be about the impression companies want to make, and are by their nature an 'inside-out' proposition -- a company figures out its brand and what it means, and does what it can to communicate or otherwise impart that message to people.
Brand always starts with the company.
Experience, though, needs to be about the people. What do they want to accomplish, achieve, do?
For experience to succeed, it must start with the person, and from there, impress upon the company. "Experience" is outside-in.
The unfortunate company-centeredness of the Design Council's discussion of brand is in evidence in their 13 examples -- most of these are explicit branding ploys, attempts by various companies to impress their brand upon customers through environmental design that suffocates any attempt by customers to express themselves, their desires, what they as people want to accomplish.
This isn't to say that these various examples are "bad" -- they might be tons of fun, totally worth the time and money. But if "customer-centric relationship models" are a key element of experience design, what does that have to do with the Guinness Storehouse, "the ultimate experience of the character of Guinness".
Photo credit: Stephen Coburn
Bob Jacobson, co-author of the Corante magazine on user-experience, cmments himself on the post by Peter Merholz an does a great job of summarizing the issue:
"The great Danish designer Per Mollerup reminds us in his comprehensive book on trademark and brand design, Marks of Excellence (published in 1999, btw, before the "brand experience" became a self-declared profession), "branding" initially was all about putting ownership marks on earthen-ware and cattle. A cup that wouldn't break or a heifer whose meat tasted good conveyed value on the brand it bore. The potter and farmer didn't invent their brands, except to decide on the form of the squiggles.
The same pertains today. Designing a "brand experience" (or by extension, a "user experience") basically means pointing out how well something works. The best way to do that is to give it away or offer testimonials. Truly designing for experience is an act of pure invention. It doesn't have much to do with products, brands, or websites."
What's your take?
Original article by Peter Merholz published on January 3rd 2007 as "Experience design is not about brands".
Introductory commentary by Robin Good