Last week Crowd DNA execs Gabriel Noble, Julie Brethous and Essi Mikkola went to hear Zoe Guiraudon at the General Assembly recap on UX (user experience design) and how it helps brands...

User experience provides a crucial competitive advantage for brands. Ocado, Uber and Airbnb – the biggest innovators of recent years became winners in their categories thanks to their user interface, and the experience these provide.

Even though UX design is often discussed in the context of digital services, it’s actually an umbrella term for human-centered disciplines like service design, information design and graphic design. Everyone can benefit from the principles of UX design that follow the classic ‘Double diamond’ process established by the Design Council.

The Design Council's 'Double diamond'
The Design Council's 'Double diamond'

The practice of UX is essentially about solving problems with design. Creating user flows, wireframing and usability testing are some of the main techniques to make sure the product is good and answers the needs of its users. UX is always subjective since there’s no universal taste, though creating personas can help take into account the needs of a range of people. UX design is rooted in psychology and its main areas of interests are understanding what users think, feel and how their instincts affect these. A well-known tool for marketers, Maslow’s ‘Hierarchy of needs’ proves itself handy in the case of user experiences too.

Using Maslow's 'Hierarchy of needs' to create ux
Using Maslow's 'Hierarchy of needs' to create ux

Below are some top tips for designing better user experiences:

  1. 1. User research forms the basis to any design
  2. 2. Asking the right questions is key
  3. 3. Collaboration: incorporating all stakeholders in the design process brings in more ideas and insights
  4. 4. Affinity Mapping helps visualise and come up with themes when thinking of journeys and user insights
  5. 5. Personas help to empathise with different types of users
  6. 6. Prototyping helps thinking as ideas become tangible. All you needs is a pen and paper – if a picture is worth 1,000 words, a prototype is worth 1,000 meetings
  7. 7. Iterative process = design – test – learn: repeat

What differentiates Ocado, Uber and Airbnb from their predecessors – traditional supermarkets, taxi companies and hotels – is that they’re borne out of user needs (I need food, I need someone to drive me from place a to place b, I need a place to stay). Moreover, every little detail has been designed carefully to make the experience more satisfying and to involve the least possible effort for everyone using the service. Whether it’s a visual, audio or touch-based interface, UX should be at the heart of your decisions. They say that the best services are often the ones you don’t even notice.

Part of InterFace, a series exploring – across digital and physical – how our touchpoints with brands are changing…

Brands can do more by creating experiential retail spaces where storytelling plays a crucial part, says Crowd DNA's Essi Mikkola. It's time to help consumers feel a deeper connection with the brands they love…

If you went shopping in a department store 100 years ago, you might have found yourself being followed by a floor-walker. Their purpose was to politely ask whether “Miss or mister was going to buy something?” (if the answer was negative, you’d be asked to leave). Today, retail is facing a challenge that is quite the opposite: how to bring people into the physical stores when almost any product can be found at a lower price online and be home-delivered in an instant.

We know that time has become a luxury for many, and customers go to stores after doing their research online; even checking these reviews while in-store using their phones. So how can brands elevate the physical store experience above the online? As Armand Hadida, founder of the Parisian fashion and lifestyle concept retailer L’Éclaireur explained at the Future Of Retail seminar, creating the perfect experience is like orchestrating a performance. It should spark emotion, inspire and educate, and – in addition to the design – staff play a crucial part in this.

The Store, Berlin
The Store, Berlin

Recently opened in Berlin, The Store is a great example of how physical stores are transforming from points of sale to points of experience. The Store offers a beautiful space where visitors can hangout, eat, get a haircut, see some art and admire a carefully selected collection of artefacts that are displayed so visitors feel as if they are in a friend’s home. And naturally, everything on display, from the vinyl spinning to the couch you sit on, is for sale.

This concept of a hybrid retail, gallery and social space is actually an idea from the past brought into the modern day. As architectural writer Jonathan Glancey explains: ‘Opened in 1909, Selfridges offered bedazzled customers 100 departments along with restaurants, a roof garden, reading and writing rooms, reception areas for foreign visitors, a first aid room and, most importantly, a small army of knowledgeable floor-walking assistants who served as guides to this retail treasure trove as well as being thoroughly instructed in the art of making a sale.’

It seems that many brands are overlooking this art of sale and don’t realise the power their staff could have, if they were trained better. Hadida argues that people love to learn and hear about inspiring real-life stories; staff are ideal brand advocates who can pass on this inside knowledge about the brand, its heritage and the people behind it. Interestingly, the retail prophet Doug Stephens sees a phenomenon in which ‘the store is evolving from being a distribution channel to becoming a media channel.’

Brand loyalty is harder to achieve and maintain than ever, but when consumers find a brand they love, they often become superfans – a passionate group who readily share their experiences on social media. In the saturated world of marketing messages this is exactly what brands need: real stories from real people. Physical stores are ideal places to communicate brand stories through their design and staff, and consumers have the power of a media agency in communicating these forward to the world through their mobiles.

Latest fads like shoppable images on Instagram are encouraging impulsive mobile buying, so physical stores will need to justify their existence even more in the future. For me, multi-sensory experience was one of the biggest trends of 2016 and it’s still continuing to grow. However, brands should keep in mind that the point isn’t just to create sensational experiences with the latest gadgets; it’s to spark personal and meaningful memories, as this is what helps form stronger bonds with their customers.

Part of InterFace, a series exploring – across digital and physical – how our touchpoints with brands are changing…

LOUD & CLEAR

Voice activation is set to become a dominant interface between ourselves and brands and experiences. Crowd DNA’s Andy Crysell gathers up notes from our recent work in the field, exploring the barriers to overcome and the opportunities ahead…

It isn’t so much a new thing, but voice activation – or voice computing – is certainly a fast gaining momentum thing. We know this because of the sales and media coverage of devices like Amazon Echo. But, as a business, we also know this as it’s a topic we’ve been asked to explore in several client briefs recently (that’s not something that would have happened much over a year ago).

Clearly there’s a huge opportunity here to create more frictionless and empathetic experiences – particularly in-home, at-work and in-(smart)car. Many of the experts we’ve been speaking to see it as a paradigm shift, something as revolutionary to our relationship with digital utility and entertainment as the rapid advancement of our mobiles was five to ten years ago.

As with most innovations of this kind, there’s a certain clunky-ness to it in its formative stages. Barriers stand in the way of true adoption. Recent data suggests 69% of Alexa’s 7,000 skills either have no reviews or just one review – this implies very low levels of adoption. Of those who enable a voice app on Google Assistant or Alexa, only three-per-cent are still active the week after. Moreover, we’re still to ascertain what kind of relationship we really want with a voice assistant – should it have a name; a gender; where does voice activation intersect with mood recognition and a deeper understanding of what’s on our mind?

Google Home
Google Home

Plenty of challenges, then. But the experts we’ve met believe that, once good use cases become popularised and eulogised, once the recognition process takes the necessary and inevitable steps forward, voice activation will gather pace quickly. They’ve spoken to us about how crazy it will soon look to be swiping away at a mobile. How we need to start comprehending the notion of invisible apps and invisible actions – the invisible interface, ultimately. That we should be ‘viewing’ voice computing as the next great platform.

What’s in it for media and for brands? A lot of our interviewees have spoken about untapping latent intent – all of the new things we will do, or things we currently do but will now do more abundantly – if we don’t have to reach for our phones, and if the cognitive load is reduced. The opportunity is there, they enthuse, for media and brands to be with us more often and more relevantly; to work towards seamless narratives that flow across devices and day parts.

So Nike tell us to ‘Just Do It’, and McDonald’s affirm ‘I’m Lovin’ It’, but how will they deliver against these messages on this emergent interface? Also fascinating is how a lot of the heavily used marketing maxims of recent times – the requisite for brands to have an authentic voice of their own; the need for brands to have a two-way conversation with consumers – will suddenly take on new and more direct meaning in the age of voice activation. Lots to think about – even more to talk about.

Part of InterFace, a series exploring – across digital and physical – how our touchpoints with brands are changing…