Principle 4: Have a Personality
Our traditional notions of branding have given way to a much deeper focus on understanding the customer experience. Brand has become more than a sharp logo. Brand identity is equal to the sum of all the impressions an organization makes on its customers.
For those designing commerce sites, this is a significant shift in thinking. The Web is a highly public, visual, and interactive medium. Therefore, it has the power to build or erode an established experience quickly.
It is critical to understand how an organization defines its brand before beginning a project, since your job is to successfully interpret this brand idea into an interactive experience. A designer must always be asking, "Does the final site properly represent the company?"
Companies are now in the experience business, and brand identity equals experience. Walk into an Apple store and you will be immediately aware of how true that is. Apple's stores use refined architecture, lively signage, and interactive displays to direct the consumer towards a consistent, coherent and unique experience (See Fig. 2.10).
figure 2.10: true to the message
Apple's marketing message on its Web site promotes the computer as something that will unleash your creative power. The physical store reinforces that message by allowing you to flex that power with unlimited verve. For example, walk up to the display called "And the award for Best Director goes toÉ you!" You are presented with several video cameras tied to Macs running iMovie. Right there, you can practice your skills.
The designer's challenge is to extend the offline message into a complementary online experience.
Every choice a designer makes in a traditional mediumÑfrom typeface to the packagingÑtakes into consideration the consumer's experience. Will the type be too hard to read? Will the package style be appropriate to the brand?
Branding defines the total customer experience. Personality is a subset of branding that deals with the distinctive face you put on that experience.
Personality is vital because it paints a unique and distinguished portrait of the brand experience for the consumer. Your visitors interact with many kinds of sites from the familiar to the strange. If handled skillfully, your site's personality will separate it from the mass of competitors and make it more memorable.
Personality manifests itself in every element of your site, from the colors you choose to the writing style to the photography and the grid. Your site's personality should reflect its purpose. How thoughtfully you combine elements such as words, image, video, animation, sound, color, and interactivity on a page will either reinforce or corrode what you've established. Some thoughts to consider:
Words: While you may not be responsible for the writing, be sure that the copy you are given is consistent and authentic in tone and voice. According to Jakob Nielsen, the best writing style is concise, scanable, and objective, free of marketing lingo and hyperbole.
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Photography: The quality and style of the photography is an important factor in establishing personality. Images should be chosen with an eye not only for style, but for how useful they are to the customer in making a purchase decision.
Animation & Video: Video is good for showing features of products that can't be demonstrated with text and images, such as a QTVR of a home. Video and animation are also good for high-end, stylized advertisements. But be wary of using this type of content. It requires special talent, skill, and technology to pull off properly. It also requires that your customer have a good enough connection to experience it. Cheesy animations and choppy, low-quality video are death to personality. Allow site visitors to request video. Do not force them to view it before getting to what they want.
Sound: Use sparingly, because it adds significantly to download time. Allow site visitors to request sound. Do not force it on them. If the sound is only used as background, make it easy for site visitors to turn it on or off.
Your site's brand identity and personality are as important as the information it contains and the technology it uses.
Color: A key indicator of personality. Pick a color palette that differentiates you from competitors. Don't be too loud with colors because too many active colors can become distracting (see first example in Fig. 2.11). Color is excellent for providing direction. For example, you could use a unique color to signal action buttons like Find or Add to Cart or Checkout (See Fig. 2.12).
figure 2.11: what's your brand's personality?
Personality manifests itself in every element of your site, from the colors and language to the photos and grid. The personality should reflect the site's purpose, as well as match offline identity.
Many sites that want to attract a hipper clientele put style before substance. Notice that the text accompanying the product and in the navigation is not instructional but more about mood and emotion. The color palette on sites like these tend to be brighter, and bolder. Many elements of design are decorative, and do not operate in conventional ways. This approach may be entirely appropriate to your brand, but it has usability pitfalls.
Clientele for sites like these are equally image conscious, but in a different way. Notice that the language in the navigation is direct. But the language with the product contains a little touch of personality. The color palette tends to be more restrained. Many elements of design are also decorative, but operate in conventional ways. This approach may be appropriate to your brand as well.
figure 2.12: relevant personalization
Consider the customer experience when choosing which personalization options to offer. Options that are simple and context-sensitive will have the greatest impact.
Interactivity: Your social interactions define your personality. The same is true of your site's interactions. Think of interactions as a form of conversation. The site says something and the user says something back. So what are some of the qualities of good social interaction? Ask for permission first. Say please and thank you. Invite a friend along. Play nice with others. (You get the idea.) A site that makes users sign in before they do anything, has the potential to project different personalities, depending on how it's presented and handled. It may say "We care about your privacy," or it may say, "Members only. Stay out."
All of these elements should add up to a single personality. Is your company witty? Reserved? Irreverent? Dependable? Nerdy? Cool? In Figure 2.11, we show two approaches to site personality.
In the rush to be hip or sophisticated or clever, some designers take personality too far. Remember the cart example in Figure 2.6, where a garden store used a wheelbarrow for the cart? That's not personality, it's a cheap gimmick on the face of something meaningful. Likewise, having a bat fly across your screen might sound neat for Halloween but would jeopardize the trustworthiness of a brokerage site like Charles Schwab or the sophistication of a retailer like Williams-Sonoma.
The ultimate job of brand identity is to create a company personality that customers can identify and want to associate themselves with. If they can customize or personalize that association in any way, the relationship will deepen and become longer lasting.
eNormicom.com is one of the smartest send ups of the dot-commoditization of Web brand identity. Satire by 37 Signals, a smart Web-design firm out of Chicago.