by Matt Bladin
Through the rapid rise of smartphones, smart tech and on-demand content, we’re constantly exposed to both good and bad design. Our interactions are governed by experiences so we can measure the impact of this large exposure. The explosion of digital design has given us (a): a better understanding of design principles and (b): and a greater appreciation of it.
Today, the challenge we have as designers is to communicate clearly with an audience who are more educated about what is good and what is bad.
In 2014, when AirBnB launched their rebrand, it was one of the top trending topics on Twitter, and it wasn’t just the design community that joined the conversation, but the public too.
With this growing awareness and understanding of good content, designers are faced with the heightened challenge of trying to cut through an evermore crowded media landscape; constantly fighting harder for the consumer’s attention while being more scrutinised than ever before.
But rather than feel intimidated by this ever-growing landscape, designers should embrace the consumer’s heightened appreciation for good design and use it as a foundation upon which we can continue to push the boundaries of design and UX.
By acknowledging and embracing the consumer’s new found grasp on the design language, designers are in-turn offered more freedom to continue to create work that will stand apart and above from the rest.
Brands that stand apart in a crowded market often have a visual identity that clearly realises this opportunity and use it to build a more positive connection with the consumer. They know the importance of good design to permeate and connect within a crowded market.
This is evident in the recent rebrand of gumtree.com (yet to be rolled out on gumtree.com.au). Owned by eBay, Gumtree operates as one of the largest classified sites in the world. Yet their previous design and UX was outdated, poorly executed and at odds with what is generally an easy process.
In the world of online shopping, customers have never had more choice. Because of this, if the user experience with the website or brand is off putting, it fails to build a positive relationship and they simply go elsewhere. Gumtree realised this, and how it was impacting their brand-loyalty so they enlisted the help of London Design studio KOTO headed up by James Greenfield (who previously lead the Air BnB rebrand at DesignStudio).
James put it lightly when he said, “I think it had been very clear the previous logo had divided a lot of opinion. They’d done a lot of consumer research and I think it’s fair to say that it wasn’t liked that much: no one knew the reason Gumtree had started so the meaning had become quite lost.”
Though initially only asked to create a new logo, KOTO saw an opportunity to harness the potential Gumtree had to connect with consumers in the market category and the role that good design could play in this process.
With this ethos at the core of the project, they were eventually awarded a full redesign of the brand. They saw the need to appeal to the design literate user and pushed the brands core-guidelines to now be defined as modern, simple and digital – themes that were noticeably absent from the previous design.
“The result is a digital ready brand, fit for future purpose that will help reimagine how potential users see the brand”, said James. KOTO was able to identify Gumtree’s design failing and their affect on the consumers choices and use that to create a new Gumtree.com that places an emphasis on connecting with, and retaining users.
With a consumer’s heightened design learnedness, brands now have an opportunity to tap into a previously unconsidered resource. Rather than considering the user as a blunt end point, their knowledge and understanding of the media landscape can be incorporated into the design process. Allowing brands to work towards an outcome that will ultimately connect best with like-minded people.
This process is at the centre of the new co-create phenomenon, and is used by over 50 per cent of the fortune 500 companies. When approaching the recent rebranding of their club, Manchester City employed the co-create method to engage the exposure, understanding and passion fans had about football brand identities to help craft their own. Rather than shying away from the modern consumer, Manchester welcomed them into the conversation to better understand them through a massive undertaking of focus groups, surveys, prototype designs, and user testing.
In turn, this created a more bespoke piece of brand communication for their identity and site. The new logo drew deeply from the club heritage and historical designs, while the site and app presented a customisable hierarchy of content to the modern time-poor user; “The site is mobile-first, video-rich, and features a range of content from across the club, our teams and players, our fan base and the wider football community” said Diego Gigliani, senior vice-president of media and innovation.
Unveiled at a home-ground game, the new identity was an instant hit in both the design community and with fans, receiving thousands of positive tweets and new merchandise sales. Manchester City leadership knew how emotionally invested their fans were, the value of using their knowledge and as a result were able to drive a better design outcome.
Brands who fail to grasp the importance that good design plays in cutting through the crowded visual space will inevitably be left behind. Brands who let their visual presence lapse or falter will face the same fate. No company is too big to be immune to this mistake as we’ve seen time and time again.
Instagram and Uber, two of the biggest apps in the world both underwent bold re-brandings in 2016 to the detriment of their public image. While both re-brandings were extensively written about by the design community it was the backlash from the average user that was deafening. These users instantly (and vocally) identified a negative shift in the visual identity and therefore their user experience.
While Instagram appears to have weathered the storm, Uber almost instantly went into damage control, to the point where they had to proactively remind users that the app and service would still function the same. But the convoluted messages the new identity sent about different cities being ‘separate but the same’, didn’t help.
Uber’s new identity featured different colour schemes for different cities, a crowded style-guide and an app with no resemblance to the previous. They clearly misunderstood or disregarded the modern users’ heightened awareness of such things. Eventually ominous reports started to emerge that the design was largely driven by CEO, Travis Kalanick. When asked about the process he said "I didn’t know any of this stuff, I just knew it was important, and so I wanted it to be good.”
With its rebrand, Uber threw out the previous visual equity it had amassed with its consumers. Instantly the powerful link between brand sentiment and one of the world’s most recognisable visual assets; their app, was lost.
Through poorer design they lowered themselves in the hierarchy of visual information a consumer must navigate every day.
Recognising this, within months they had reverted back to an identity closer to their original. Interestingly in this case consumer choice and design appreciation (or lack there off) drove Uber to reconsider their design mistake, and strive to create something better and more befitting of a user base that most brands would kill for. Unfortunately, it wasn’t all without casualties, just 24 hours after Uber's branding unveil, Design Lead Andrew Crow left the company.
This understanding of the end user’s design literacy is at the centre of the design process we’ve adopted on digital projects at CHE Proximity for clients including Mazda and Telstra. By establishing user groups and user testing early in a project, we build an understanding of the user’s design comprehension and perceptions of the product. This understanding leads us to better design insights and user needs – previously unconsidered – which ultimately helps create an imaginative and bespoke outcome.
While these insights help facilitate a richer visual outcome, more importantly they create a design that connects with the user in the crowded digital space by presenting solutions to their identified needs. The greater we understand our end user, the more we are able to push the designs that speak to the user’s sense of good design and brand quality.
As technology continues to advance, so to inevitably will the way that we consume and engage with information and design. A recent study by Microsoft claimed that humans, on average now have a measurable attention span of eight seconds. If this is indeed true, the challenges faced by communication designers of all forms have never been harder.
But with these challenges come new solutions that reinvent and reimagine how good design can connect and even have a meaningful impact on our daily lives. By identifying these challengers and understanding the people we want to connect with we can create more meaningful design outcomes. The goal of connecting with a user has never been harder, but design is becoming better off for it.