Wake The Town
Stuck in Motion
Contemplative Reptile
  • International Edition
  • USA Edition
  • UK Edition
  • Australian Edition
  • Canadian Edition
  • Irish Edition
  • German Edition
  • French Edition
  • Singapore Edition
  • Spanish edition
  • Polish edition
  • Indian Edition
  • Middle East edition
  • South African Edition

Why Great UX Should Surprise and Delight


The refrain of “apps and websites all look the same now” is the result of UX best practice taking hold – but how can a seamless experience be heightened by creativity and wonder? LBB’s Alex Reeves asks experts from the industry

Why Great UX Should Surprise and Delight

Capitalism is well over 200 years old now and the way people relate to the products they buy is more complicated than ever. The way we experience a brand, not just a product or service, is crucial to how we feel about it. Eric Looney has to understand that, as chief experience design officer for NA at VMLY&R. “Consumers are more and more choosing brands with better experiences, where the experience around the product is equal to or greater than the product itself,” he says. “And everyday, every hour even, we compare our experiences with brands from one to the other, building up which brands are more important for us in our lives.”

The ever-more-online relationship we have with brands has brought into focus the importance of making that interface a good one. “We are living through a consumer-expectation shift, where experiences for our consumers are only going to matter more in the future,” says Eric. “Take millennials for example. 57% are choosing brands that offer a better experience when engaging with that brand. And we need to be ready for them.”

It’s that impulse that has driven ad agency networks to expand their user experience (UX) capacities in recent years. And on the face of things, a ‘better experience’ can be a case of reducing friction and pain points.

As a creative director at Re, part of M&C Saatchi Group, Jon Hewitt says usability must come first. “When we create digital products, we need them to behave in the way the user expects to minimise any frustration. This means following the established patterns that have emerged since the early days of human-computer interaction. For example, we expect the menu on a smartphone app to behave a certain way, or when we press the checkout button on a ecommerce website, we know what will happen. These conventions have emerged over decades and, like any language, will continue to iterate and evolve over time. But, if a brand breaks these conventions in order to be distinct, they'll add friction and risk losing customers.”

That’s the foundation of good UX, as Tom Collins expresses: “As much as I love getting into the fun of making something look pretty and exciting, the creativity for the eye has to take a moment to make sure each click, swipe and page transition can take the user through exactly what they need to see, in the correct way.” Tom’s an integrated designer at Solarflare Studio – a creative technology studio whose immersive experiences help clients creatively forge deeper relationships between brands and their consumers – and he never likes to assume too much. “I always think of it as ‘how do I give the best experience to someone that’s never picked up a phone in their life?’,” he says. “It can be easy to assume that someone should be able to understand each nuance of UI nowadays because it’s been around for so long, but you really can't. As a designer in tech it is important to pull yourself out of what you know and think of what the rest of the world perceives and make sure you work around that.”

The problem is that following this way of thinking, taken to an extreme, can strip away the very thing that makes the possibility of brand experience design so exciting, homogenising every interaction into one ruled by assumptions of best practice. 

“Like all forms of advertising, user experience design must be relevant, original, and intuitive,” asserts Christine Lane, head of innovation and experience at DDB North America. “Relevancy ensures what we’re creating has purpose. Adhering to the discipline’s best practices ensures we meet consumer expectations. The trap is stopping here, which leaves consumers with little more than a generic, transactional design.” 

Wayne Deakin, global principal for design at Wolff Olins is concerned about the tendency to stop in the generic, bland place. “UX design desperately needs to evolve if it is to help businesses transform or create deeper brand relationships,” he says. “But in my opinion, there's a lot of bad UX out in the world currently – and many design approaches that aren't future-fit, given where customers/users are today and where they are heading. Having been over-driven by function, UX design now needs to go beyond functionality to reclaim exciting experiences that move you as much as they service you.” 

In too many cases, function has been placed over form, he argues. “Many current design approaches prioritise pure utility over excitement, however – missing the point that UX should offer an engaging experience, not just perform a task. The hint is in the word ‘experience’. So it should be individually ownable and build brand relationships as much as it should be of service - a bit like a balance between beautiful form and beautiful function. 

“While UX has always been about storytelling, somehow it’s been overtaken by a sea of sameness and unemotional logic. Yet as humans we respond to more than pure logic - we need emotional moments in our life to form lasting relationships. Great designers have always understood this. Whether enough UX designers today share the same perspective, however, is unclear.”
Re is a global brand led experience design business that aims to transform businesses by bringing exceptional brand and product experiences together. With that goal in mind, Jon knows that pure function isn’t good enough. “In recent years, digital product design has been characterised as being formulaic. The discipline is often maligned with quips about how all apps and websites look broadly the same these days,” he says. “Whilst there's some truth to this, we've found that digital product designers are often caught between two tensions: creating usable products and creating memorable products.”

The concept of memorability may sound abstract, but it’s a principle that we all apply on a human level. Eric from VMLY&R compares UX design to the principles of hospitality. “I often think about simply hosting someone at my house for dinner. Anticipating the mood, food, drink, music, conversation, etc and I would begin to map out the experience I would like my guest to have. Design experiences that surprise and delight and are unique to the brand are no different in approach.”
Experience designers at Eric’s agency take a lot of cues from the hospitality world, thinking of people interacting with their clients’ websites, apps and other experiences as ‘guests’. Concepts like Will Guidara’s ‘Unreasonable Hospitality’ or cultural phenomena like the Japanese concept of Omotenashi in their work. Hospitality principles like anticipation, authenticity, empathy, selflessness, integrity, invisibility and gratitude. “All of these should ring a bell with experience designers and if we really apply this level of thinking, we can go beyond service and into deeper, more meaningful experiences that go beyond what our guests will generally expect. Some results might be super grand or super simple but the experience should be contextual to the moment and to the user.and don’t make it overly complicated. Keep it simple, thoughtful and maybe a little unexpected.”

Context should underpin exactly how much licence an experience has to delight or surprise. Far from generic ‘best practice’, the unique ways in which brands can creatively subvert UX norms should come from what they are and who their users are. “This changes with the audience, type of experience, end goal and accessibility. So, many things have to be understood first before leaping into the ‘end product’,” says Tom at Solarflare.

For Eric, it’s about being human centred in the design approach. “Designing experiences that surprise and delight or are unique to the brand begin with the user, or for us, the guest. And we look at not just fulfilling but anticipating the needs, desires, responses for our guests at every point in their journey, be it small or large, and how we can build each step along the way into a memorable experience.” 

That requires getting to know your user, he notes, drawing on whatever data a brand can obtain and deciding exactly what it is about the experience you want that person to remember. From there it’s clear what kind of experience you need to build. 

It’s simple for Ben Knight, ECD at Havas CX helia: “First, put the user at the heart of your thinking. Spend time thinking about their needs. Ask yourself, why does someone need this, what can it help them with and then how can you make it a great experience? Don’t start by thinking how creative you can make something but think, ‘Now I know enough about the customer; how can I use creativity to bring the brand to life and engage with them more meaningfully?’”

Phillip Fernandez, UX designer at tms, goes back to the goal of that experience as a north star. “There have been examples in the wild that disrupt user expectations while still being very successful. That being said, subverting user expectations can turn off a segment of your user base,” he says. “A key part of creating experiences that are unique and delightful is grounding your work in some form of research – from ideation to execution. The research phase(s) tends to be a time when you’re able to discover delightful interactions/experiences that can be applied to a project. And by applying the user-centred design process (ideation/discovery, design, test, iterate) into your project workflow, you ensure you and your team are taking the right steps to follow best practices.”

A brand experience is a dialogue between two parties. As well as taking into account the person at the end of it, the key to creating an experience that is functional but also delightful and surprising is to craft originality through the brand’s own personality, argues Christine at DDB. “Our Chairman Emeritus, Keith Reinhard, is fond of referencing a necklace example. Necklaces are generally gift wrapped in a box. Of course, only one of those boxes comes in Tiffany blue. The Tiffany box is similar to many other boxes, but the carefully considered colour choice connects the consumer to the moment and instantly creates a lasting impression. Ultimately, we’re successful as experienced designers when we lean into what’s familiar to the consumer and what’s unique about the brand."

Taking his product design hat off in favour of his brand design one, Jon at Re acknowledges that memorability is important. “Who doesn't want their brand to stand out, be remembered and chosen again and again? To do this, the branding industry values creating distinct things: a unique proposition, a recognisable logo, a colour palette that stands out amongst the competition.” But it has to go deeper, considering the digital product as a whole, rather than just thinking about the visual UI layer as the only opportunity to stand out. “It starts with the proposition: what makes this product unique? What value does it create that will see users coming back again and again? What should the product be famous for? Airbnb does this brilliantly with their category-based discovery, helping people create their dream holiday with categories like ‘OMG!’ or ‘Top of The World’ that are presented front and centre within the experience. These categories help to amplify Airbnb's mission of 'belong anywhere' without compromising the usability of booking a simple holiday home for the majority of people who use the service.”

Adding distinctiveness in the ‘content layer’ is another level on which a brand’s personality can connect with what a user wants. “Content design, imagery, tone-of-voice and messaging are all often overlooked opportunities to add personality without adding friction and should connect back to the personality that you're trying to convey,” says Jon. This is where creativity can be woven through UX, rather than interrupting and reintroducing friction that good UX design removed.

Thirdly, Jon adds that some interactions can be treated as what he calls ‘design signatures’ – “distinct moments that appear in the digital product sparingly. For example, the kerching sound in Monzo when you receive money. If the majority of the experience follows expected convention, design signatures are things like micro-interaction, animated transitions, sound design, or added value moments like user-onboarding where we can do things a little bit differently in order to stand out whilst not adding so much friction that we frustrate users.”

Ultimately, a balance needs to be struck between removing pain and introducing stimulation to an experience. And that balance needs to come from consideration of the brand experience and its users. “Experiences that are solely functional become too boring and experiences that are overly rich can either be too much or are not sustainable,” says Eric, who says in the VMLY&R process they often talk about designing for “Time Well Saved'' and “Time Well Spent”. Generally speaking the experiences they create fall into one of these two categories, and multiple times across a full journey where the ‘guest’ moves from one to the other, back and forth. “In some cases, a better design might be shortening or simplifying a task, which is all about ‘Time Well Saved’. And sometimes we need to create immersive experiences that suck our guests in and give them a moment of escape or simple joy. This would be ‘Time Well Spent’.” 

When considering new ways for people to spend, rather than save, time, Ben at Havas CX helia stresses that subverting expectations can be a handy tool in UX design, “but remember who you are designing for, and have a reason for the subversion in the first place. Done well, these tactics can create memorable and engaging experiences that bring the brand to life and earn its place in the minds of its customers. But, being subversive for creative sake, or the novelty factor can have adverse effects and turn the customer off, or generally annoy them. Advice? Test, test, test. Consideration of user feedback is essential to honing exceptional user experiences.

“With the right amount of upfront thinking, end-user knowledge, and clearly defined objectives you can mitigate this tension in the first place. Keep your users’ needs at the heart of your thinking, bring the brand to life through your UX design and don’t fall for the old saying ‘the creative tail is wagging the dog’.”

It’s worth remembering who the experience is being created for ahead of who it’s devised by. “It’s the user's experience and if they’re not given the simplicity to enjoy the complex through what we create, then sadly it just loses so much of the impact that can usually be quite easily resolved through thorough testing and ensuring the quality of interaction,” says Tom.

“At Solarflare Studio we want to surprise and tantalise with what we do,” he continues. “For example, making controlling robotic arms with augmented reality screens only using simple hand movements feel effortlessly futuristic. Bringing a whole world of people together through immersive digital landscapes at the click of a button with no confusion. Leading users on carefully thought-out storylines and interactions that integrate various technologies old and new through visuals, touch and sound, all to form something spectacular. But we’ll always do that with the right fundamentals that provide the best experience possible.”

Wayne at Wolff Olins has a vision for a more exciting future of UX design that “blends technology, personalisation, ethics, and sustainability. It leans in on storytelling and communication techniques from the past. It’s about new meeting old to create something much more interesting. Designers must adapt to these new technologies and trends,” he says. “But they must do so while also keeping an eye on leveraging the skills of great craft. They must focus on user needs and values to create innovative experiences that enrich our increasingly digital lives and deliver against the emotional promised brand values.”

“As technology gets more ubiquitous and becomes table stakes, we must reinvent UX to recapture its allure and help build brand love while being meaningful and of service. The future of creative UX design promises a dynamic shift towards closing the gap between CX, brand building and brand culture when we interact with digital technology, drawing on the art of storytelling and visual design.” 

view more - Trends and Insight
Sign up to our newsletters and stay up to date with the best work and breaking ad news from around the world.
LBB Editorial, Tue, 19 Sep 2023 16:24:00 GMT