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InfoQ Homepage Interviews Jaimee Newberry on User Experience Design and Branding

Jaimee Newberry on User Experience Design and Branding


1. Hi, I am here at QCon New York with Jaimee Newberry, who is an independent experience designer. You gave a talk on designing engagement, can you tell us a bit about just what designing engagement is?

Yes, so I think a lot of folks think of the metrics side of designing engagement, but my focus is more on the design and the pre-design thinking that I think should go into designing engagement and creating a human connection in your product or your app.


2. Ok, speaking of human connection you gave an example of one brand that you said was like Oprah Winfrey, and another one you said was like Björk, what do you mean by this?

I like the idea, and I have learnt this from working with other really awesome designers but if you create some sort of personification relationship it helps you extract relatable quality, so for example with Oprah Winfrey, in fact, let me step back a little bit. If you ask the question “My product is like [name a celebrity]” you are able to populate it, so say Oprah Winfrey, “My product is like Oprah Winfrey” and then do a little research and pull out examples of her personality traits, so whether it’s Oprah Winfrey, or Walter Cronkite or Björk from the example, you can extract really identifiable qualities and from those identifiable qualities you are able to use those as design principles for your product throughout the entire lifecycle of building it and iterating upon it, things like design color choices, the palette, textures, if you are doing an app and I’m in the iOS realm, animations and transitions, the timing that you use, are you going to stick with iOS, the UIKit, or are you going to break away. So those sort of things I think that if you are able to put an identifiable personality in place first, and then draw everything and check back throughout the lifecycle of creation you are able to create this sort of more empathetic and more personified situation, a more personified product that people can relate to.

Graham: So you are trying to surface qualities that your clients perhaps would like to see people identify with in their products.

Exactly. A lot of folks have when you are working with larger brands for instance, they have brand books, and they have thought about their brand and what they are about, and who they are, but sometimes as a designer, especially a designer that doesn’t work for that company full time, that haven’t gone through their training or been immersed in their culture, where I am trying to come in and just figure out what it is that they need for their mobile app, or web design project, we need to learn very quickly and so the celebrity they can say “We are most like this celebrity, in these ways, these are the attributes that we relate to as a brand and as a company” and it’s often tone, and personality and voice and those sort of things carry all the way through, again, whether it’s color scheme, if you are a startup company, so established brands have their brand book and stuff, I am not going to go dig through a ton of that, I do take all of that into consideration but in really understanding a brand, and I think that having those things, so there is the contrast of the big corporation but then there are also startups, so I work with a lot of startups as well and helping them understand who they are, it helps them focus on a track and when you are creating a product around that, you have really tangible check points.

So that’s sort of the philosophy of it and I have gone down a few different paths of that as well, like if you are a product or an animal, or if your company, or your brand or whatever it is that you are trying to really pinpoint, if they were an animal, or if you had to define any three colors, and a lot of those have sent me down it felt like the same path every time. So I think in my talk I used the example of the cheetah, when I ask people to use an animal, it was every time either a rabbit or a cheetah, it was like fast and sleek, or fast but really fun, so I steered away from that and toward the celebrity because you have such a broad range of options with celebrities and it’s really easy to pull research on a celebrity, so whether it’s a rock star or a movie star or an author, you have a lot of material to work with there, and really wrap your head around tangible qualities so when we move into wireframing and flow, we move into visual design, we move into copywriting, all of those things reflect back to that personality.


3. You mentioned copywriting, is this about making the longform text in my app or my website fit the brand image and the personality?

It is interesting because I have found that I write copy for almost every app I’ve made since 2010, and I have never been a copywriter per se, but it’s not usually the content, the information that is filling the app, it’s the things like error messages, button copy, UI microcopy or it’s just a title here or there, so those are the sorts of things that I find I am writing all the time, or helping coach clients through writing. And again with that personality once you’ve established a voice and maybe we have a celebrity like Sarah Silverman as our example, the voice for that is going to be very different than a voice of like a news anchor. Really understanding who that is can help affect those button choices, the word choices, and make decisions that are more user friendly and more applicable to the tone.


4. So what’s an example perhaps of a button text? These are often like one word, how is that going to change the personality of my app?

Well I think you could look at Twitter as an example, Twitter really did something different, so they have the little field where you write your post, one 140 characters or less, and then the button used to submit or post says “Tweet”, and I think that’s a perfect example and not a lot of folks are going to be able to get away with just using a completely arbitrary word, but really understanding who you are as a brand, and how far you can go and how clear your interface is, can allow you to do that sort of thing and kind of step out there, outside norms and standards and it’s completely intuitive so I think Twitter is really great who knew what a tweet was before Twitter, it wasn’t.


5. Could my bank or my insurance company use Tweet?

Ok, so this is a great question because could your bank use tweet, or something a little more fun, I think you have to be very aware of who you are as a brand and you have to be very authentic with that. And so a bank putting themselves out there and using more loose or friendly casual, I think you could be friendly and casual without being goofy I guess. And so I think you have to be really mindful of who you choose as your personality type that you are going to relate to, you want to make sure it’s genuine and really authentic, to who you are and that you are able to be consistent throughout your entire app from the introduction screen or the copy, the app description or the release notes that are written for it, any email interactions, it all has to thread through with the same voice and I think if you are straying from that and not consistent, it becomes less appealing and when you’re not genuine, the moment you are not genuine you loose that engagement with people.


6. Is this just something that we can use in consumer apps, so does it apply to internal enterprise apps, B2B any of those contexts?

It all applies to every possible app, it’s funny because in the enterprise realm as a designer I often get that sort of response from enterprise folks like “We don’t need design, we don’t care what the pixels look like”, it just needs to say what it needs to do, but there is no reason why you can’t be delightful in those instances as well, and sometimes even just friendly, it doesn’t have to be really outrageous or quirky, I tend to play those up in the examples because they are easy examples to wrap your mind around when you are trying to understand the whole personification, but as long as you are genuine, I think just being friendly is what it’s about. Again it’s the empathy and the user experience is the primary focus and if you are able to personify that and be able to engage with the person’s emotions, that’s the key.


7. Your talk was on the mobile track and a lot of the examples you’ve given have been mobile apps as well and things like Twitter. What is it about mobile apps specifically that lend themselves into thinking about them this way?

If you are talking specifically about an iPhone or an iPad or Android device, the screen real estate is small, you have to be very spare, you have to be minimal and really pull away the noise and focus, so I think if you are going through the process of thinking of this in the mobile realm, it is something that kind of reflects back I worked on the Zappos iPad and iPhone apps and one thing that the iPad app helped us do, we had to clear away a lot of stuff and it really informed, we were able take that back on the website and apply a lot of the clearing and cleaning that we had done, to keep things fitting into the real estate of the iPad. And I think in terms of words it forces you a little bit to be really simple and really focused and I think if you carry that back into the web realm, it’s really useful, people don’t want to read a lot, they don’t have space or time to read a lot especially on a mobile device but I think it’s a practice that can help you improve other situations as well.


8. Did you have a personality in mind for the Zappos app?

Zappos was sort of a personality of itself, so our design principles for Zappos were actually their ten core values, and that sort of a culture thing there. Their culture is such a loud personality in itself it was really easy to run with that and that was kind of before I had arrived at that sort of thinking, that was 2010 it was kind of before we focused on this celebrity, like focusing on a celebrity, we thought about it in colors and we thought about it in animals and we interviewed stakeholders and got their input on what that would be and we’ve done that through the web process and by the time we got to mobile it was kind of we got it on the website, but not a celebrity so it wasn’t a singular personality that was focused on there.

Graham: Sure, this has been a really interesting discussion in terms of how I can get Björk to write my copy text, so Jaimee thank you very much.

Thank you, thanks so much.

Aug 16, 2013