"The brand is the whole experience, the service, product, personality and expression, and I can’t see how people claim to do the branding, the total experience. We build identities, not brands." —Sean Perkins

This is exactly how I feel about ‘user experience designer’.

Designing Products with an Identity

Business cards, stationary items and even logos are becoming less relevant to the identity of a brand. Increasingly, it’s about the identity of the products we use and have experiences with. 

This was something I came to understand when working at Fuseproject, an industrial design agency in San Francisco. They recognize the impact of designing products with a strong identity that is instantly recognizable and builds desire in the consumer’s mind.

So I spent a lot of time thinking about what ‘identity’ means to digital products. How can you inject a personality into an app or website without creating superfluous embellishments that distract or degrade key tasks? There are three areas that I defined to help me design products that are more recognizable and desirable:

•  The design language
•  A product signature
•  Marketing novelties

Design Language

A design language describes the unique (but subtle) treatment of core aspects such as color, typography, iconography, pattern, behavior, motion or transition. It’s the minimum you need to build up an identity. A good language is flexible enough to adapt to each touchpoint (app, email, website) or product (Nike Running, Nike Fuelband) while maintaining a familiar look and feel.

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Treatments I developed for Game Golf’s design language included stacked bold titles, left aligned stats with vertical dividers, and a wash of gold across the satellite imagery, among others.

Product Signature

A brand signature is the “iconic” element that helps define or increase recognition of a product. It feels most natural and authentic when the signature is born from the key function of your product and is most effective when it’s repeated across other touch points.

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Nike Fuel’s signature green to red gradating graphs

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Path’s signature vertical line

Marketing Novelties

Marketing novelties are slightly more contentious, but when used correctly, can be a powerful tool. They are simple elements in a product that often provide little functional value, but have the capacity to evoke emotion so that people want to talk about your product. This is important if the value of your product is not immediately apparent – perhaps you require a network effect, or need to build habits first.

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When Path 2 launched, everyone loved to play with the compose button, while Uber has a delightful waiting screen that people want to show to their friends.

Thinking about these details makes me more deliberate in my approach. But it’s important not to force them. For Game Golf, we didn’t have any novelties designed in and for Ouya we couldn’t find a product signature that fit naturally (beyond the startup sound). If these elements feel arbitrary, the user will notice the designer’s hand at work, distracting them from the actual product.

Creating an identity is also just one part of the design process. It should be built on top of a solid product strategy, a clear structure, good service, well thought out behaviors and, if applicable, effective growth mechanisms. But given that, it has the potential to add a powerful layer of emotion and memorability into your product.

I love when low-function products are stripped back to a humble minimum. They look great and save material. I own and recommend this bottle opener by Field.

/by Field and Normann Copenhagen

Concrete can be such a beautiful material. Look at that crisp part line.

/by Itai Bar-on and Oded Webman    /via Design Boom 

I enjoy the top heavy proportions and wide stance of this building.

I’d love to see this in real life. I feel like it would be even more atmospheric if the ceiling lengths hung more loosely. Although I guess that would contradict the strictness of Japanese aesthetic.

by/ El Equipo Creativo    for/ Patka    /via Dezeen

"Intuition is about sensing facts before they materialize."

Robert Irwin

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There is a playfulness in the interaction between these two structures that I really enjoy. A beautifully warm interior too.

by/ Fabi Architekten    via/ Dezeen

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I just discovered designer, Oscar Diaz. I love the humbleness in his designs. I also just purchased this bottle opener from Field.

by/ Oscar Diaz    for/ Field (and personal)    viaOscar Diaz

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Dyson has developed a tap with a built in hand dryer. The motor spins at 90,000 RPM in less than 0.7 seconds to push air out at 692 km/hr. And yes that is expensive to develop. Over $40M expensive.

by/ Dyson    via/ Dezeen

The Personality of Imperfection

I was house-sitting for a friend in Melbourne a few years ago, while she was out of town. It was an older 70’s style unit. The front door was elevated on a step, painted black with a brass handle. Both were worn down. A small, abandoned garden sat on the other side in the entryway. Every day I would come home, find the matching brass key and struggle to unlock that door. I had to navigate through it’s stubbornness. My friend had already told me the code, ‘pull the door towards you, wiggle the key to the left and pull it out a little, then turn it to the right.’ Eventually I would master it.

I was once short-tempered with imperfections like this. We face them every day. But this door reminded me of the value of imperfection. Eventually I could unlock that door with ease, just like I could on my previous apartment, and just like I would on future apartments.

The door had a personality. And I had grown to understand it. We’d formed a relationship and we worked together. I felt this most when I’d proudly tell my friends the code — having watched them fail to unlock the door on their own.

In contrast, perfection doesn’t do this. It makes itself equal to everyone.

This story came to mind as I read an article from Josh Miller on the design of Facebook Poke. He says that unlike SnapChat, Poke’s design doesn’t support the behavior of the app - to be ephemeral, silly and spontaneous. But SnapChat’s imperfect interface does something else too. It requires me to form a relationship (which is comforting if you’re sending nudies), and creates a feeling of connectedness, knowing my friends and I have all experienced its quirks. Just like that black, worn door.

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Dami is a beautiful series by Seung Yong Song inspired by traditional Korean grilles.

by/ Seung Yong Song    via/ Box Clever

Apple’s renderings seem pretty sharp lately. I’ve been loving this one from the iPhone 5 page. Feels very Muji/Japanese. Also, notice how the grey has a slight blue tinge. Subtle saturation goes a long way.

/by Apple    via/ Apple

Perhaps there are more important things to focus on right now, but regardless, I love that this ‘Architecture for Dogs’ project, curated by Kenya Hara, is open-source, with all design templates available for download. 

Especially now that I’m accustomed to the more accessible field of application design, it’s nice to see architecture and industrial design projects being made available to the wider public too, not just reserved for the wealthy.

Above are my two favorites. The project is set to launch next week.

by/ Kenya Hara (and others)    via/ Dezeen

As Facebook begins to roll out Gifts and Collections, I thought it would interesting to define their product offering. I’m not sure if I can simplify it beyond this:

Facebook is where you express what you are– and stay up to date with what your friends are, thinking, doing, are going to do, are interested in, and want. It’s also where you stay up to date with what your favorite businesses, celebrities, artists and teams are doing, are going to do, believe in and offer. It is a place to communicate directly with friends, a place to discuss specific topics with peers, and a place to play games with others. Lastly as a platform, it’s how you connect, identify yourself and bring your friends with you across other digital products.

What do you think? Are they getting too bloated? Is their mission still clear to you? Let loose in the comments below.