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We’ve all heard the famous Dieter Rams quote, “Good design is as little design as possible.” A great interface is one that the user doesn’t see, think about or struggle to understand. In the words of Steve Jobs, “It just works.”
When it comes to digital products, this means putting the user at the center of the product and building a design process that allows us to understand what they actually need. However, in the push to place function above all else, the sea of apps that live in our pockets are increasingly undifferentiated visual experiences, largely devoid of human touch.
So, this begs the question: Does personality even matter in design anymore? The short answer is yes. But what does “personality” mean in the first place?
Personality in a digital product can mean a lot of things: an illustration style, colors, fonts, a delightful micro-experience or Easter eggs scattered throughout the experience. Now let’s be clear, personality doesn’t equate to being quirky. No one wants a cutesy Clippy-esque character popping up and doing a little dance when you’re trying to pay a bill on your mobile banking app. In the context of digital product, personality is about an individual brand experience that is appropriate to your brand voice and still places functionality above all else.
An injection of personality in the digital world does not mean a strictly visual flourish. It could be many things. Magical micro-moments woven into the best digital products add a human voice that differentiates one product from another.
It could be a playful line of copy when starting a conversation with a bot. For example, when launching the Slackbot for the first time gives the user a friendly message. Or a silly Easter egg, like when you click MailChimp’s high five hand too many times and the hand starts to turn red.
If you’re a product designer reading this, you might say, “Who needs personality in an app? My product functions just fine without it.” There are a few reasons why you might want to think again.
Showcases those involved behind-the-scenes
AI will be playing a bigger role in the creative and design industry, and users are becoming increasingly aware of their decreasing privacy and the lack of human touch. It is a way to give your product a human voice in an increasingly automated world. After all, 2018 is the year of CX, and customers want to know that their fate doesn’t lay in the hands of a machine. It’s a way of saying, “Don’t worry, there’s still a human back here somewhere,” which creates a more personal experience in the product and building the brand behind it.
Being wrapped in a slick user experience soon won’t be enough. The interfaces of the future will need to convey the voice of the brand behind it, warts and all.
Brand design is product design
A brand is no longer just its logo—it could even be a unique interaction, sound or icon. In a crowded world of digital products, a unique brand personality may be the only thing that separates one product from another.
For example, there are probably hundreds of meditation apps in the App Store, but Headspace’s unique design language sets it leagues apart from its competitors. Its visual personality, expressed largely through illustrations and playful color palette, makes Headspace a uniquely branded and better experience. And it’s paying off. In a relatively short amount of time, Headspace is consistently placed among the most downloaded health and fitness offerings in the App Store, taking a somewhat niche topic like meditation to the mainstream.
Personality can be functional
Adding personality to a digital product does not mean sacrificing usability or functionality. Personality can be visual, tone of voice, sound or interaction. Slack is a masterclass in bringing a digital brand to life in a 21st century way. A highly functional experience is paired with unique, witty injection of copy throughout the experience that gives the interface a human voice. The functionality and personality complement each other.
Achieving this balance isn’t easy. It’s easy to go overboard and make everything cute simply for the sake of it. But the right balance of functionality and personality creates a moment that elevates a functional product experience into an emotional one, which is where a brand impression is made.
Twenty years ago, design might’ve conjured up the expressive hand-lettering scrawl of Stefan Sagmeister, the bold typography of Paula Scher or the distinctive work of Alan Fletcher. Good design was synonymous with personality. Today’s concept of design has broader meaning and impact than its traditional sense. But in a world where technology is more ubiquitous, powerful and intelligent than ever, we need to remind users that there are real people, with real points of view and biases, behind the products they interact with every day.