Curious’ Digital Creative Director, Tom Windsor, speaks about what makes a great website and how Curious prioritises UX for exceptional results.
Have you noticed a change in the way clients talk about digital?
Our clients are now more aware of the importance of their digital offering. They recognise that it’s a vital part of their brand. Not that long ago, this wasn’t the case: clients would prioritise the visual design, and the website would be a second thought or seen as another bit of collateral to reskin.
Nowadays, there are a myriad of touchpoints where audiences interact with brands. This is an exciting opportunity for brands, but it also means they need to have more flexibility. They need to feel consistent while being able to adapt to multiple environments, audiences and devices. Within digital, brands need to adapt visually and emotionally across apps, websites, social media, tv, copy and more.
It’s an exciting time for digital but with increasing scrutiny, what needs to be focused on to create a great digital product?
It varies by project, but really UX is everything. Of course, there’s the visual element – people used to prioritise this when websites still imitated print – but now the focus has shifted towards users’ experience.
So UX can make or break a digital platform?
UX is about how the digital journey feels and how users interact with it. For us, it’s about tailoring design to be human-focused so that the end product is easy to use, focused on your users’ needs and goals, as well as looking great. And it can be applied to pretty much everything. Anything that someone will consume and make sense of should consider UX.
You can develop a fancy website that moves in an exciting way and looks beautiful, but if it’s not meeting your users’ needs or performing to your business goals, then it’s failing. Great design is about balancing the need for something beautiful, delightful and usable.
Figuring out where customers will land and what journey they’re likely to take through a website is similar to store ergonomics. Retail companies spend millions deciding on the best layout for their store, and stores will feel different for different brands. They consider where the customer is coming from, what they’re seeing first when they walk through the door and where they’re likely to walk next, ultimately predicting what they’ll go onto do. They do all this, all while providing a unique brand experience along the way.
By investing in UX brands can stand out from the out-of-the-box template websites that now exist. It’s getting easier for companies and individuals to build websites, which is great as that’s more access to information and resources for consumers. But it also means that websites all feel like the same format and churn out the same design. A good approach to UX can shake this up and make a brand experience feel unique.
Do you have any examples of websites where UX is considered well?
ASOS is a great example. Their website fulfils two key functions. It allows customers who are searching for a particular item to find it quickly. But, it also has a discovery function that allows customers to browse, similar to how customers might be inspired by the things they see whilst exploring in a shop. It serves multiple types of users.
They also do a great job of presenting their brand and leaving a lasting brand impression on their users through the content, language and experience. This is because they get their users and have invested in continuous research into their changing needs. The website is constantly evolving to adapt and the website components within their design system, allows ASOS to be hugely flexible.
How does Curious make sure they consider users in their work?
As an agency, our first step is always discovery. We do our research, and then we ask our client a lot of questions. It’s kind of our thing, and it’s where any good designer will start.
We have to think about both the users’ needs and our clients business requirements when designing any digital experience. Everything that follows from our initial discovery will consider how these needs can be met and be served by the same website in the simplest and most visually appealing way.
We start by developing user personas which are designed to tap into the needs, frustrations and anxieties of the users. From here we can map out their expected experience of the website by designing user journeys. User journeys help us to demonstrate to our clients where their users are coming from, what they are on the website to do and how they navigate through the content to get to their intended goal (and hopefully achieve it).
From here we can work on the architecture of the site by developing a sitemap that summarises the pages needed to achieve a great user experience.
We validate all our design decisions by asking whether it helps either the users of the website reach their goal or answers a business need of our client. If it doesn’t, then do we need it?
With all the attention paid to users, how do you make sure that your design will work with the brand strategy?
What is unique about Curious is that we run brand strategy and digital in parallel. We allow both to inform each other. It’s a great illustration of why we’re good at what we do.
Digital touchpoints need to be functional and facilitate the audience’s needs. So, you have to start with UX. But, what you don’t want is a website that provides a great experience but has no personality.
Brand and design need to be integrated to create websites, apps or other platforms that are tailored to their audience whilst also providing an authentic brand experience. If you look at the most successful websites, they do this wonderfully.
Could you argue UX is part of brand?
Over the last decade, the rise of quick and cheap website builders (Wix, Squarespace) and responsive grid frameworks (Bootstrap) have provided an opportunity for individuals and businesses to get their content online and brands visible relatively quickly. This is a great thing. Though, the downside is that many websites now follow the same format and look the same. We’ve lost what was unique about digital experiences when designers weren’t constrained to rules and grids.
At Curious, we believe great digital design starts with no assumptions of what a website or app should look like. And no assumptions of its users. Designing from scratch and fully embracing the influence of users and brand is so important. Doing so will mean your website or app will feel tailored to your users and distinct to your brand.
Source: Zyte case study
Do you think UX continue to be an important part of developing a successful brand?
Yes. Even if Coronavirus had never happened, consumers are more digitally mature, and their expectations have grown with technological advancements. They rely on apps and digital products to drive their day to day lives, and therefore, they have higher expectations of a good user experience and advanced functionality. More on how this has affected retail here.
Covid restrictions have expedited our dependence on technology. They’ve driven many aspects of our life online and this has led to increased reliance on and scrutiny of digital platforms and digital brands. The restrictions have also forced those who might have avoided technology to embrace it out of necessity: even your Great Grandma uses Zoom. This means that brand audiences are potentially more diverse and mixed.
All this points to the fact that brands need to consider their users at every design decision they make. As expectations and audiences increase, brands that don’t think about their users will lose out.