Unified Design: The Next Frontier in Branding

Someone once said, “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

This quote doesn’t just apply to life. The same is true for your brand. Customers often go on a multi-screen journey with your brand as they move from device to device.

You probably do it too.

Have you ever used your iPhone to fill up your online shopping cart, but then finished the transaction on your laptop? Maybe you’ve started watching an amazing new show on your living room TV, and then picked it back up the next day on your Netflix mobile app.

Welcome to the new norm.

Nowadays, everyone has multiple devices within reach. Take a look around right now; you might see a computer and a smartphone. What about a tablet or a TV? Today, it’s common for people to multi-screen in two ways:

  • Sequentially: we move from one device to another to accomplish a goal
  • Simultaneously: we use multiple devices at the same time

Google found that 90% of people are sequential users, meaning they move between devices to accomplish a single goal. Tasks like booking a hotel or paying your bills don’t happen in one sitting anymore. They’ve become linked to sequential device usage. Not only is this because people are easily distracted (squirrel!), but they enjoy using the interface most readily available to them.

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The Best Device is the Closest One

If a mom needs to check her savings account while she’s riding the Light Rail to work, she’s probably not happy waiting to get home to her laptop. She’ll pull out her tiny pocket computer (AKA a smartphone) and login right then. Everyone knows that. Here’s the trick: What if she needs a report exported?

She might not finish her journey on the same device she began it with.

This is where unified design steps in.

What’s that? Most people have heard of responsive design, which focuses on building a cohesive experience in web browsers of different sizes on different devices. But responsive web design ends where the browser ends. Unified design is the next frontier of branding. According to Cameron Moll, founder of Authentic Jobs, unified design focuses on “crafting a unified, cohesive experience regardless of where the experience begins, continues, and ends.”

Unified design is about harmonizing all touchpoints for the entire user experience.

Users don’t relegate tasks to certain devices anymore. They expect the experience on their phones to seamlessly integrate with their TV experience, and of course, their laptops.

People have stopped judging your brand on how it looks. They judge it on how it’s experienced.
– Jeffrey Zelman, @zeldman

Is your brand ready for the next design frontier?

Delivering Harmonious Experiences

Collaboration across disciplines is key. Many companies have departments that split up customer experiences along channels, platforms, or devices. Don’t think of the mobile user or the desktop user as separate people—they are most likely the same person in different contexts.

Stop designing for specific devices. While there are unique design and functionality considerations for every device, try to make your copy and designs inclusive of different experiences. We need to think critically before we speak. For example, “tap” assumes your customer is on a phone or tablet; “click” assumes he has a mouse or trackpad. Would using a verb like “select” or “choose” be better?

When you’re talking about different screen sizes, avoid using terms like “mobile, tablet, and desktop” when “small, medium, and large” are more inclusive. Not every small screen is a mobile phone (ex: AppleWatch) and not every large screen is a desktop (ex: web-enabled TVs).

Research the future of the internet. Imagine how many other internet-enabled devices we’ll have in the next 5 years. Think about testing your website or platform in realms not currently explored in your industry. Have you considered your footprint with devices that are voice-activated and don’t have screens, like the Amazon Echo? People will want to experience the internet, and therefore your brand on the internet, in new and interesting ways.

Meet Your Users Where They Are

Good design is almost never noticed. Bad design is often glaring. A customer will notice his frustration rise if he can’t accomplish something on his laptop that began on his phone. Take stock of your audience touchpoints, and think about the moments along the way when your customers might be feeling lost or forgotten. Delight your customers by giving them a seamless experience from device to device; it’ll leave them with positive thoughts about your brand and they’ll keep coming back for more.

Stop having a one-sided conversation by telling users what kind of experience they should have, and build the experiences they are asking for.

Your audience wants unified experiences—all you have to do is give it to them.
– Cameron Moll, @cameronmoll