Social networks help the villagers to rise up

We are moving from representing ourselves online to being online. The expression of our online identity is no longer what we’ve accomplished in the past, but what we are doing in the now. Just like us, brands can no longer work on their heritage, but are challenged to actively engage in the now.

Something that has been distorted by the thick clouds of mass media, became clear once more: a brand is only a group of people working together with a common interest. In that way it comes as no surprise that brands become more like individuals. The lack of two-way communication allowed brands to act like aristocrats directing the world from within their invincible castles. These days however the villagers found ways to unite against the aristocrats, making it impossible for anyone to hide and deny responsibility behind the anonymous face of a brand. In a way it can be seen as a step backwards in time to an older model where people bought their products from local craftsmen with whom they had a personal relationship.

Top-down, directed and centralized communication is being replaced by a bricolage of presences that are dynamically generated by the multi-directional and decentralised interactions of the crowd. The brand identity is the result of this complex interaction, and it’s defined every day anew by experience. This connected and shared experience is made out of a multitude of conversations, faces, comments, quotes and images that float around the brand (but no longer controlled by it) and they define a fluid and ever changing identity.

The reason that the top-down brand strategy became obsolete so fast is that it turned out to be even less useful than pre-social media. The consumers got together faster than their rulers could divide them. More and more we will see it happening that a group of people who all have a strong personal brand come together to form supergroups. A famous example of course is CSNY, but you can see it happen in every industry. Brands should avoid being an abstract entity, and start to make clever use of the strengths of the group of people they represent. Only by putting individuals in the foreground will there be enough trust generated to truly engage.

Social media is a toolset that allows the villagers to unite themselves. The old aristocrats are still welcome among them nevertheless, but only on the condition that they leave their shield and sword at home.

An interview on UX design

A while ago I answered some questions for .Net magazine about my work at Webjam, only a few quotes got published, so it seems like a good idea to share my answers with the world.

What does user experience mean, as far as you’re concerned?
User experience is about aligning the existing elements –information, visual style and interaction- in such a way that it creates the best experience for the user whilst still adhering to the company’s goals.

Why does user experience matter? What are the benefits?
Creating a user experience is a given, creating a good user experience is hard work. A large part of human decisions are non-rational decisions, there is no checklist to conclude if we trust a site, or if a site is friendly, instead it’s a feeling felt about the whole experience. Structurally improving the experience of the users will therefore benefit business in general.
How do you approach user experience when creating websites and working with clients?

You have to be clear on two areas, first, what does the client expect that a user will do on a site? Selling their car is quite different from downloading a press release. Second, what is the type of experience they want to achieve? Trustworthy for a finance site is different from cutting-edge for a 3D designer, equally child-friendly for a Zoo is different from quality for an established tailor. Knowing the usability and experience goals will help you to determine the right approach for a fitting user experience.

How does psychology impact on UX, and are there any basic key rules designers should bear in mind when  working on projects?
In the diverse and crowded Internet marketplace the time of easy revenue for Internet companies is definitely over. A useful and usable website are conditions for entering. To get ahead of your competition you have to do more, and it is here where knowledge of psychology comes into play. From persuading a visitor to sign up to convincing a member to stay actively involved, a UX designer has to use a wide range of design elements to influence a user’s behaviour. In a way UX is borrowing more and more psychological tactics from marketing and sales.

What do people get wrong regarding UX in web design? What common mistakes do you see or misunderstandings do you find are rife?
Often there is a strong focus on just one of the elements of UX, the site looks beautiful but it is very hard to complete any task, or the site is very usable but has become so minimalistic in design that filling in your tax form seems like more fun! It is important to understand that good UX comes from understanding the customer. After that you only need to add great information architecture, great interaction, great visual design and great copy to create the winning formula.

What do you think the next big development in UX will be?
In a saturated market with highly competitive products and services, creating usable sites won’t be enough. The key question is not if the user can use your site but if they want to. Therefore, understanding and influencing user’s behaviour by using lessons learned from psychology, sociology and marketing will become increasingly important.