How to Translate a Brand Identity into a Digital Experience
A strong brand identity has historically always been an extremely valuable, profit-creating asset. Modern-day brand identities still hold the same importance, but their reach has multiplied across different media and often intangible elements. The digital experience (websites, mobile apps, digital platforms etc.) encompasses a whole swathe of brand touchpoints that allow brands to inject their values, personality and tone of voice. Consumers today are demanding authentic experiences which can be backed up by the brand’s philosophy and behaviours. If the two are incongruous, the brand experience will not feel genuine, sometimes even dishonest.
There are some simple ways to bring your brand identity into digital experiences. Your core visual identity assets such as colour palette, typefaces, shapes or graphic devices, icons, photography style, language and tone of voice are all easy to apply across digital touchpoints.
A brand’s visual identity may determine whether buttons should be rounded or square, flat or with a drop shadow. A brand’s design principles may determine how minimal the design should be, and whether a menu bar has ten elements or is reduced into a simple menu icon.
Coherency and consistency
To create coherency with offline and digital experiences, the key is to boil down the brand to the simplest possible recognisable visual expression. For McDonald’s, it could be their specific tones of red and yellow. For Channel 4 it could be their bespoke and distinctive brand typeface.
Payments platform, Stripe, have a clearly defined core brand expression: a simple angled stripe that can be seen on their corporate cards and the angles of the characters in the logo. In digital application, this angle is used as a device to separate sections of content and draw the user’s eye to important areas of the page.
Google’s Material design is a great example of translating a brand ethos into a digital experience. Google promise to make intuitive products in a beautiful way, and its Material design system means that all their sites and apps have familiar design patterns, making way for subliminal branding and consistent brand experiences. Search bars are in consistent locations, menus and buttons behave in the same manner and the way colour is applied to UI (user interface) is also consistent.
Aside from the more aesthetic and static elements of a brand identity, there are aspects of digital that have more intangible touchpoints, such as interaction and gestures, motion, sound and user experience. These elements can be harder to determine, often due to the fact that they are missed when initially developing a brand identity, but they can add further depth and personality to a brand or can further reinforce an existing brand identity and values.
The key to a coherent brand experience is to make sure that these more intangible touchpoints are aligned to the brand principles. Take the example of user experience on a website. How do you want the users to discover content? Is it curated and served to everyone in the same way, or do you personalise it and offer different experiences to different users via a guided approach? Or, do you transfer all the decisions to the user just have a free-form search bar to search the entire site? There are many ways to bake a cake. Usually, a variety of solutions will be proposed during the design phase of a project. Sometimes it can be hard to decide upon the best user journey and experience without adequate A/B testing or if not working to agile methodology, so make sure to consider this when trying to develop coherent and consistent brand experiences.
Aligning brand values with digital principles
Translating design principles or brand values into digital or experience principles will often help when having to decide on the design ‘route’ to go down. At this stage, it may help to filter out design ideas that aren’t closely aligned to the brand values and therefore don’t provide a harmonious brand experience.
Nalla worked on a global digital platform for consultancy firm EY, and before starting on the design of the platform, we first developed and agreed on digital design principles that reflected values of the business and the needs of the users. One particular value was ‘guidance’. Users needed to feel supported, so they knew how to progress with their journey. So, we took the word ‘guidance’ and applied it to digital design principles such as:
- Access to navigation must be visible at all times to provide guidance to our users
- Use EY yellow to guide users to key information on the page
- Use EY yellow to indicate where users are in a process
Successful translations of brand identities into digital experiences
Airbnb’s website exemplifies the brand’s purpose and identity. Their brand purpose is about belonging, providing curation and offering authentic experiences. So, their website contains sections of curated local experiences with realistic photography, which perfectly synthesise with their slogans ‘Belong anywhere’ and ‘Live like a local’. This online experience feels intuitive for Airbnb, whereas just a search field for any accommodation, anywhere, anytime that you would see on booking.com or Expedia, would feel out of place or ill-considered.
Gucci’s audacity, irreverence and long-term relationship with art are reflected in its Spring/Summer 18 website. It may not be the most user-friendly site, but it’s not trying to be. It’s trying to push the boundaries of user discovery and online interaction, which is coherent with the fashion house’s fundamentals of pushing the boundaries in style and form.
The type of gestures you adopt for your digital experience will also affect the user journey and therefore overall brand experience. Will you use scrolls, swipes or taps to navigate through content? Apple defined gesture control with its groundbreaking touchscreen iPhone in 2007, introducing the ‘swipe to unlock’ gesture (which has since been replaced with fingerprint scanning and facial recognition). The swipe gesture harmonises with Apple’s core belief in beautiful design that delights people.
If you are undertaking a digital project for your brand or business, firstly consider whether you have the principles and values in place for a design and experience team to create a digital solution that will effectively translate your brand identity and purpose. Secondly, consider how you can deliver the best user experience whilst imbuing it with your brand philosophy or personality. And finally, refine or develop your brand identity assets to be able to apply them across all the possible touchpoints and facets of digital.