Flying home recently, and being the obsessive compulsive design thinker that I am, my eyes and brain started to wander. Flights are good thinking time.
Across the aisle I noticed a young guy probably about 18 was watching Breaking Bad on his laptop – it caught my eye because it was one of my favourite episodes… I remember at the time I couldn’t take my eyes off the TV.
The drinks trolley arrived and I was momentarily distracted and looked away. By the time I glanced back at the guy’s laptop… Breaking Bad was now minimised and he was reading a document. I glanced away again and when I looked back he was watching something else. Family Guy or something. Another two minutes and the screen was minimised again, another document, another burst of typing, then back again to more content. He’d flipped back to Breaking Bad and was continuing to watch the previous episode, only this time he was fast forwarding the bit he didn’t want to watch.
His behavior, whilst bizarre to watch, was perfectly normal to him. His flitting from one thing to the next, his ability to juggle several pieces of information and activity at the same time, his willingness to dip in and out of content freely and his ability to do it all without seemingly effecting his enjoyment of that content.
I don’t think this was a case of ADD or that Breaking Bad wasn’t gripping. I just think that nowadays we dip in and dip out of everything, we flit from one thing to the next, not because we’re particularly unsatisfied or aggravated but just because we can – so much content, so little time. We’ve been rewired thanks to the mobile devices 91% of us keep within arm’s reach at all times (guilty).
Nothing we do is linear anymore.
And our relationship with brands are the same.
Those old convenient straight lines of Awareness – Interest – Desire – Action are dead. Organisations must rethink their relationship with their consumers. In fact, let’s stop calling them consumers, just call them humans.
As Unilever’s global SVP of marketing, Marc Mathieu recently said: “Forget about consumers. Consumers are dead. All of our vocabulary as marketers talks about people in a way that’s not considering them like humans.”
User or human-centred design has to be part of every organisation’s DNA if it’s to cope with the pressures that an increasingly fast paced, connected and mobile world throws at us.
How you design your business and its related experiences are becoming more vital than how you communicate them. Telstra’s recent success over other telco’s hasn’t just been because of bigger ad spend. It’s been the result of a skilfully choreographed reinvention of what was, let’s face it, a disliked nana-brand only a couple of years ago, to be a service provider that enables better digital lifestyles for more people.
Catherine Livingstone, Telstra chair and head of the Business Council of Australia recently summed up the dilemma facing many Australian manufacturers: “The competition has been coming onshore while we are still worrying about our high costs and the need to take costs out. You still have to do that but on top of that you have really do things differently.”
“It’s the consumer that is driving the demand for innovation now. If we don’t get globally the best, we are not interested. Business has to benchmark itself globally even if they are not selling globally in an export sense. If you are not competitive in your domestic market, the competition will simply come on shore.”
Good advertising, products and services alone are not enough. With audiences so fickle and fleeting, brands must connect on an emotional level throughout the entire journey and design every touch point in order to make sure the experience is constantly maintained. To stay relevant a brand needs to do that on an ever-increasing cycle of improvement. Examine, design, test and refine.
Brands must embrace the idea of perpetual beta and not fear it – it’s an opportunity to stay fresh, have a new conversation or tell a different story.
The retail concept store ‘This is story’ in New York is one such example, changing its entire layout, theme and product offering on a regular basis. They think of themselves as a magazine not just a shop. OK, it’s a bit gimmicky but the queues around the block are testament to our constant search for new retail experiences.
So given our flying friend’s propensity to dip in and out of whatever takes his fancy how can you ensure your brand keeps up and stays desirable?
1. Develop a framework for change
Positive change happens when you add structure and process to creativity, stay agile and embrace design (in the broad sense) as a business competency.
2. Allow your story to unfold
An excellent, seamless experience that surpasses expectations will win. It’s not about mindless consistency. It’s about how the parts of the experience combine to deliver the whole.
3. Expect the unexpected
Little things matter, attention to detail, surprise and delight. Keeping the details fresh, within the framework of the brand’s story, are important to sustaining your ability to exceed expectations.
4. Lose control (a bit)
Recognise the user will pick their own path – don’t assume you can push them in a straight line or that they will pay much attention. It’s about give and take, exploration and discovery on the user’s terms.
5. Less is more, more often
Go for short bursts of content, simplicity and clarity. Entertain and inform don’t lecture. Sustaining freshness trumps consistency.
Design is about change and making new things. A designer’s skills of observation, synthesis and creation in an agile and seamless way has become more important to businesses precisely because they are less in control than they were, and need to be better at making new things, more quickly and more often.
James Sterling is the Creative Director of Designworks, Australasia’s leading strategic design practice.