There is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things.

 

I lied – the above statement is not at all true. Yes, there are certain things we know we shouldn’t do, or we should avoid when designing experiences but to say that there’s a golden bullet is completely wrong.

There are guiding principles and ‘best practice’ approaches that we’re led to believe is the correct thing to do, but does that mean we should treat these as rules?

Absolutely not. If that was the case, then how do we advance the industry? How would humanity move forward if this approach was always taken? In the well-weathered and referenced words of Henry Ford:

 

“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”

 

So why would this be the case? It’s because the car didn’t exist at the time and no one else had the foresight or confidence to think beyond what they already knew.

This is also the danger with competitor research and analysis. I’ve lost count of the number of times I hear “I like what this business does so we want to do that”. This raises several questions; “Do you want to be your competitor? And if that’s the case, what differentiates you as a business? Why would anyone buy from you over your competitor?”.

In some instances, there’s a genuine answer to this based on price or faster delivery, but there’s a limit to how far this can go. It’s impossible to compete infinitely on price and certainly huge logistic challenges to promise things like next day delivery.

 

 Best Practice Should be your Foundation, not your Goal

This isn’t a post to completely disregard the proven approaches and methodologies. This is a post highlighting the fact this should be your starting point. The whole idea of starting these best practices is to create something that ‘works’.

But creating something that ‘works’ doesn’t provide a memorable experience. Just creating something that ‘works’ doesn’t build brand loyalty. Building something that just ‘works’ is emotionless and non-descript. In the words of Charlie Chaplin:

 

“To those who can hear me, I say, do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed, the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress.  Don’t give yourselves to these unnatural men! Machine men with machine minds and machine hearts! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure. Let us use that power. Let us all unite!”

Please note that the above quote has been shortened for succinctness

 

 Where Process Makes Sense

There are instances much like the checkout process where having something that ‘just works’ is a good thing. Once the user has got to this level of their journey, it’s about a transaction.

In essence, it’s a process, so recognisable patterns and best practice makes it much easier to complete that process. In many instances you don’t even need a checkout anymore – you can simply use PayPal or mobile payments to complete that transaction without having to engage any further.

 

Where Process Doesn’t Work

On the flip side, the browsing of products is a much more emotive experience. If your shopping experience is the same as everyone else, how will they remember you? Why would they come back? The same rules apply in physical retail experiences and can be seen all over the place

 

 

Apple is a classic example of this. The grey storefront with towering glass panels and a giant Apple logo front and centre is a staple look of their stores.

 

 

And the inside the stores themselves are just as striking. The minimal look, drawing all attention and lack of checkouts is a staple to their physical retail spaces. Even the uniform alignment of the tables is carefully considered to create smooth flowing footfall around their stores.

The same can be said about Victoria’s Secret and their bold pink and black statement so they capture the attention of passing footfall. It’s recognition. The association of a statement look or mark with a brand.

 

What’s in a Colour?

The same risks of identity can also be applied to colour psychology. There’s a very particular reason that so many of the largest social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn use blue as a brand colour.

Blue is associated with trust and stability – something that all social media platforms can never be short of. The same can be applied to many other brands such as IBM, Intel, American Express, Salesforce and Visa. All these brands are dealing with sensitive or private information and need to do whatever they can to build trust and confidence in their users.

When you apply the same colour theory to other industries such as fashion, you have very similar issues. You could arguably say that the clothes and apparel should make the brands stand out, or the larger brands relying on reputation.

However, at a face-value brand level, so many high-end websites look the same. Standard patterns, excessive use of black to portray ‘luxury’, small typeface to draw attention to the clothes and away from the price. This is an example of brands following one of two approaches; we should do this because we aspire to be an elite label, or this is what we’ve always done.

Neither of these is a measure of success and unless brands begin accepting experimentation, it’s going to remain this way for a while. The issue with this is that this removes multiple levels of visual hierarchy making and all levels of identity. Suddenly, these brands are merely competing and relying on status, more than that of having their own identity.

 

 

The use of colour doesn’t only apply to the brand, but also the UI in which they sell their products as shown here:

 

 

All the images here are from each of these brands (that’s right, they’re not the same site), but they all start to look the same. All use black and white in excess and lack a visual hierarchy or identity. That could switch around the logos on any of these sites and you wouldn’t know the difference.

So now we’ve moved from a conversation of ‘best practice’ to a conversation of ‘commonality’ in UI, but both are interlinked.

 

Take a Piece of Advice from Apple and ‘Think Different’

So, let’s hope brands open themselves to more creative execution and innovation and avoiding getting sucked into a copy and paste future of faceless, legacy-reliant brands.

Brands, be proud of who you are and what you stand for. Be seen and be noticed. After all, a world without innovation and identity is a world that’s going nowhere.