UX vs branding which takes priority

User experience and branding: two of the most important aspects of web design. We’ve previously discussed the unnecessary rivalry between SEOs and UX designers, where we basically solved that problem for good. In another of our previous blogs we discussed how material design could have an effect on brand identity: a problem we also solved in perpetuity. But UX designers still have a lot to compete with. A UX designer’s goal is to make the user’s experience as pleasant as possible, but they also have colleagues from other departments looking over their shoulder. This includes the creative director, whose job it is to make sure the brand identity is prevalent throughout the app/website.

UX and brand identity overlap more than you might think – at some point a web designer is going to get to a point where they have to make a decision between making a more agreeable experience for the user and maintaining the brand identity. A creative director will tell you that brand identity should be present in everything a brand does because it’s what defines them and why users will remember that brand long afterwards. UX designers will tell you a poor UX reflects badly on the brand, which could have long-term repercussions. So how can you figure out what to do?

Spoiler alert, the answer obviously isn’t universal. There is no absolute priority. Since both UX and brand identity are both important, each situation needs to be measured for its impact. If we were to look back through the history of the web, we’d find examples of branding that caused such a negative impact on UX that those examples are barely heard of these days.

Websites were once treated more like digital versions of print communications, so web designers would include a ‘front page’ in the form of a heavily branded landing page. This would give a business the opportunity to shoehorn its messaging over more space. Some sites still utilise these heavily branded landing pages today, even though they offer terrible UX and  are very likely to have outdated branding (call us). The same can be said of splash pages – a page you have to sit through (either for loading purposes or simply for the thrill of narcissism) before you can actually get on with whatever you wanted to look for on the site/app. All users can see is another obstacle between them and getting what they want.

These are generally considered obsolete today, but the tough decision to remove brand imagery from awkward locations doesn’t stop there. When developing an app, it seems to make perfect sense to include your logo, but you don’t need to put your company logo on everything. In fact, if the user is on their phone, it will take up precious screen real estate. When you think about it, you don’t need the logo there anyway. The user has already downloaded the app and physically pressed your icon to open the app – they don’t need reminding which company they’re looking at. The brand imagery (colour schemes, fonts, structure etc) should do that anyway. The Facebook app is a great example of this.

The above examples are of UX taking priority over opportunities to develop the brand identity. But it doesn’t always go that way. User experience is important to make sure the user returns to the brand, but the brand identity still needs to be developed. Small sacrifices in UX are acceptable when it comes to presenting your brand as unique and professional.

One of the more common examples is typography. Fonts are part of your brand guidelines and yet they don’t offer too much for UX beyond ensuring good legibility and readability. In fact, the shape and colour of the typography could make interpreting the brand more difficult, but since the difficulty is so negligible and the rewards from effective branding are so high, it’s a sacrifice brands are often willing to make. As long as your website is well designed and allows users to accomplish what they set out to do, then they will be forgiving of minor speed bumps in the UX – they probably won’t even notice.

UX designers and creative directors often clash over how much branding should be incorporated into their designs. But there is no need for it. Here at Dusted, we have departments for UX design and for branding which work together effectively. Collaboration is the key – when approached with an ultimatum where the answer is either ‘go for UX’ or ‘go for branding’, it needn’t be a furious battle. There is a sweet spot between the two and the best way to find it is to acknowledge that neither UX nor brand identity is inherently more important than the other. The creative director and the designer have to work together to create a site/app that offers both a great experience as well as great visuals.

It’s safe to say (or at least not too bold a statement for me to make) that UX could just as easily be considered part of the brand. Your digital properties need to feel – just as much as look – like you own them. A total brand experience should encompass all elements of UX design along with more classical elements of brand design.


Photo credit: Flickr user Ariel Waldman