During the last few years, we have been witnessing a tremendous shift in the ways brands interact with their customers. The top-down communication style they used to have in the past changed to a continuous dialogue with consumers. The modern concept of branding is more than ever intertwined with experience design.
In users’ minds brand identity is inseparable from brand experience. Today brands represent complex systems with unique values and stories behind. The aura created around each of them consists of a very fluid substance that builds up the context and influences product and service design.
Companies seek the ways to create and maintain steady relationships with their brand fans and followers. This requires a strong focus on the consistency of context, impression, interaction and a future perspective. For experience design teams it means recognizing the impact of their work on the communication of a distinct brand identity and value across all interaction touch points. And here is where the role of UX/UI patterns cannot be underestimated.
No matter if obvious or subtle, we all encounter patterns every time we interact online. According to research, our brain is an excellent tool for recognizing and analyzing them, as it looks for relationships between values. Patterns magnify those relationships. Most of the design patterns change as technology advances, but the most common of them are massively used, serving not only as a reference point but also as a source of the reusable solutions that solve common design problems.
Today it is nearly impossible to create something totally original. At the same time, following the path of design mimicry is not the way out either. It is a no-brainer that users feel comfortable exploring the common patterns. They know what to expect and how they function, but it does not necessarily mean we should blindly copy them. Limiting oneself to available options and strictly following patterns may lead to a generic product design and lack of unique identity.
This is especially relevant for startups that are just beginning to build their brands. By taking inspirations from the existing patterns and using them as the foundation to create our own, we blend familiarity with creativity. Balancing these two is the key to distinctive designs and consistency in brand experience.
Here are some suggestions on how to add an extra spark and a unique touch to your design pattern, overcoming the risk of a face-off design:
These tiny facilitators have a significant power to enhance the entire user experience and distinguish your brand. They add up to a smooth user journey through your design, making the interface lighter and more human, and at the same time accomplishing needed tasks and notifying users of the ongoing processes. If designed with one unifying theme all interactions can become a distinct part of your brand identity. However, keep in mind that these are the details that make users love or hate a website or an app. So, they rather need to be subtle, refined and approachable than overwhelming and annoying.
Add Animated Elements and Transitions
Animation can be used in various ways and for multiple purposes. It can have a purely decorative role or communicate functionality or be an additional tool for storytelling. When we think of animation we often imagine some extreme examples of its usage. However, good animation, just like a dessert, is great in moderation. When tastefully done, animated elements can totally transform the perception of a website or an app, adding a unique touch to the entire brand story. Perfectly placed animated elements are secret fine ingredients that actually bring the whole website or an app to life and contribute to the overall user experience.
Use Brand Colors and Unique Typography
Together with logo the combination of brand identity, elements like a unique font or a distinct color story or even a tone of voice, is everything that makes every brand seem as a coherent whole and reinforces it. However, it is important to use the elements of brand identity smartly. They should not dominate the design or confuse user’s interactions. When used in a correct and balanced way, these elements create an efficient, strong and elegant user interface, that highlights the best parts and allows for additional levels of user engagement.
Use Unusual UI Controls Design
Buttons, links, checkboxes, charts, windows – these are some examples of UI controls. We use many more of them every day, without even noticing it. Giving some of them a little flair can help differentiate your design and make it stand out.
Keep the Balance
Balancing the weight of pattern elements and their arrangement gives a sense of design strength and transparency. Therefore, in our desire to reinvent patterns or add a unique brand touch, let’s be mindful of visual clutter and user journey confusion. The interaction of visual elements, typography, colors as well as composition structure influences the way users perceive and interpret information. Creating something that looks and feels like a crazy design carousel will not add anything to a brand value. Only a headache and nausea to the users, that’s for sure!
And Test, Test, Test..
Designing for the sake of satisfying your designer ego is a waste of energy and time. I personally prefer the idea that any design can always be improved. Patterns, being a design foundation, always serve a particular purpose and can be applied in a certain context. So, when you think you have come up with a great concept that bends a common design pattern, put it in front of your users to see how else it could be improved.
With patterns, one can definitely build a functional product, but not necessarily a product which will be recognizable from thousands similar. The toughest work here is to combine and balance the creativity of your stylistic expression with the familiarity of a pattern, retaining your brand image and spirit. Nobody knows your brand better than you, so do not be afraid to think outside the patterns: analyze them, understand which solution they serve and which user context suits them most, and test your ideas. Working on details, combining design patterns and exploring new possibilities is the proven way to make a distinguishable product and a consistent brand experience.
(Lead image source: stux – Creative Commons)