Same is a four letter word.
There are now established design patterns that appear on nearly every digital experience. You can often see the wireframe through the design. In some ways that’s good: you want to leverage heuristics to make navigating frictionless and easy. But designing for experience is more than just making things easy. It’s about making things that people value, care about, and want more of. Those are all emotional dimensions that require positive experiences – not just not negative ones.
But as experience has quickly taken over more customer touch points, the focus on short-term metrics is relegating a critical element of the experience – Big-C Creative.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
— Maya Angelou
How did design lose its creativity?
Experience is a new enough field that most leaders within it started somewhere else. Usually it’s either Brand (including marketing and advertising), Product Design (read: industrial design, we’re talking pre-digital), or Software Development. And depending on where your path started, you likely have a lens that you see everything through. That lens determines what you value, and what you end up creating. There has been a constant tension between these perspectives, each trying to control the agenda, the process, and the outcome. There are currently two winners, and one loser.
Yes, I’m being dramatic. But let’s look at some phrases that you’ve probably heard many times when creating a brand experience:
Don’t just make it pretty, make it useful.
It’s not about what the business wants, it’s what the user is trying to accomplish.
We should make data-driven design decisions.
All of those statements are valuable and appropriate. But we can look at our language and see what we value: function, tasks, and systems. Things you can diagram. We don’t value the softer stuff as much. That’s the focus area of Creative. I’m not saying the values in those statements above are wrong – they’re necessary. But not sufficient. The balance is off to create real value and impact.
Creative is integral to brand. Brand is experience.
Creative as a discipline found its home in Brand, and as an extension, Advertising. Branding practice has long been based on the subtle craft of creative expression, tailored by insight. If you know what matters to a person, what really matters, and you hit that in a way that’s compelling, you will create a dramatic and powerful bond between a person and a company. The sweet spot is an idea that’s decades old, but it’s still a real thing. For every company, and every customer. There is an overlap where that service hits a real need.
But anymore, hitting that sweet spot alone isn’t branding. Digital has given us incredible power to reach people and understand people in deeper ways. It has upended branding.
The digital ecosystem for many brands is the brand.
Creative builds brand relationships.
We’ve lost something on the human side of the sweet spot equation. Which is ironic, since Experience Design is supposedly all about the person. Or at least the user. You may say that user-centered is people-centered, but not always. A ‘user’ is a part of a system, a lever in a machine. Some digital leaders at Facebook, Twitter, even Starbucks have started to notice the lack of empathy that label creates, and have banned it. Users are people. They want more than just complete to a task. They want to enjoy it.
To be truly people-centered we have remember what makes digital branding work in the first place. The content or transaction has to be expressed in the right way. Wit. Humor. Drama. Surprise. Beauty. In digital we need to take the time, the space, and the clicks to focus on those evocative elements. Without it we’re not finding the overlap between a person and a product, we’re finding the overlap between inputs in a machine. That’s not very people-centered. There needs to be a real focus on creative expression, not just a strategic map of functions and lead-generating CTAs. It’s sacrificing a long-term bond for a quick win.
Wrap it up already
Regardless of what lens you see the world through, you can make digital experiences more interesting, loved, and valued by embracing Creative. It connects the content, strategy and brand vision through compelling and memorable ideas. By getting back to our creative roots and restoring balance among digital disciplines, we’ll not only make the internet less boring, but will also create greater value for the organizations we work for.