Amazon provides the ultimate User Experience Design, as far as I know. They test every small design idea on an enormous number of users in no time. What performs better stays, what’s a hindrance goes away. Amazon could almost do this automatically. A perfect system of self-improvement. And yet I wonder if this is the way to deliver an extraordinary UX.

Amazon is just an example. A very successful one. And a whole design discipline follows that role model: UX driven design. The typical UX designer relies on data and testing, on best practice and established standards to make her design decisions. That is a legit procedure and it’s an easy tool to convince stakeholders.
But once you rely on data too much, you might become dependant on it—and miss the fun part. Which brings us to the core of this article. There is a danger in pure UX design: sluggishness.

What is a designer’s role?

Let’s take a step back and remember the role of a designer. What is she supposed to act like in contrast to her clients, even in opposition to them sometimes?

  • The designer is the one who guarantees a long lasting design idea, even if the clients just want to look like their competitors.
  • The designer shows ideas that will look fresh and special even in two or three years from now.
  • The designer makes a brand memorable and recognisable.

It may be the client’s prerogative to not follow the designer’s advice but it’s the designer’s challenge to explore the limits of what’s acceptable to the client.
The designer needs to be surprising and needs to go a little too far. One can always take a step back. But it is almost impossible to make a great design from a mediocre idea.
And that’s where we return to the problem of UX design: How can you think out of the box when you are bound within the constraints of UX?

A broader definition of UX

So what should we expect from user experience design? I would like to establish a broader definition of UX. A definition that includes not only a focus on the ease of use but on joy of use, as well. Isn’t it as important that users get a good feeling with pressing that button, as it is that they understand its meaning? Wouldn’t it be nicer if users would get the impression that a website understands them, rather than them having to understand the site?
Like Freddie‘s hand (you know it, MailChimp‘s mascot) that is nervously shaking when he is about to send that newsletter out on your behalf to everyone you know. He perfectly mimics the emotions you go through.
And even though it is a distraction from your main goal—sending your newsletter—it is a good feeling to know that somebody cares, even if it’s just a drawn monkey.


MailChim's Send Button Animation

Maybe we should stay with MailChimp for a while. Everybody loves their style (and their monkey) because it is fun to have a professional relationship with them. But would a data driven design decision have lead to a strong corporate identity like this? I don’t think so.
If you are a MailChimp customer you know that the main reasons to go for it are the easy interface and—of course—their pricing. These two features are certainly driven by data and analytics and they make MailChimp a great product. But that’s a mere „must have“ in a competitive market. What really makes a difference is what it feels like to use MailChimp’s service. It takes only seconds for the users to build themselves a vision of what to expect from a brand and its products. The character of a brand does heavily reflect on the trust users have in its product. If MailChimp has a beautiful website—not only a site that does its job—and still has some resources to write friendly an funny copy, that definitely raises the users’ expectations on its product.

It takes an idea to be a extraordinary

Okay, I don’t mean to be a MailChip advocate here, but what one can learn from their branding, is that it takes an idea beyond data to make yourself an extraordinary brand. And the value of this effort—even the return on investment—is mostly underestimated. Starting from the brand’s name and its products, from its corporate language and imagery to the way to use social media and react to complaints, a brand forms its character on a level, no one can put a measure on. And I would always advice to put these unquantifiable values first and measurable UX optimization second. Simply because it is harder to sustain.

If there is »data« in defense of UX-design,
there should be »joy of use« in defense of brand experience.