Why User Experience Design Is So Hard for Brands to Get Right

Most of them suck at UX, as important as it is

Customer expectations have never been greater.
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At Nike’s new concept store in West Los Angeles, the digital and the physical converge.

Nike by Melrose’s 4,557 square feet of retail space is designed to create an experience that blends mobile app convenience with high-touch human connections.

As shoppers enter the store, they receive personalized offers via Nike App at Retail. If they see a shoe or shirt they like, they can scan a QR code to summon a salesperson (Nike calls them “athletes”) to bring it in a different size or color.

Customers can book a 15- or 30-minute consult with an athlete, get recommendations, then try out their new kicks on a treadmill in the Trial Zone. Or they can skip the store entirely and order gear via Swoosh Text SMS, then have it stored in a secure locker or waiting for them curbside the next time they drive by.

A quarter of the store’s inventory will be refreshed every two weeks, determined by data about the kinds of gear Angeleno Nike hipsters tend to buy.

Nike: From its communications to its connected product lines and concept stores, Nike has set a high bar for user experience, says Valtech's Jonathan Goldmacher. "They've really thought about their promise and their premise, and brought it to life in ways that are incredibly admirable and astonishing."

Nike by Melrose is an experiment, but the $36 billion sportswear giant hopes to extend what it learns to new stores in New York, Shanghai, Tokyo and beyond, says Heidi O’Neill, president of Nike Direct.

“By harnessing the power of digital, we’re able to make customers’ shopping experiences easier and better,” she says. “By leveraging data, we can glean what consumers in a particular neighborhood want. The core purpose is to deliver the best possible Nike consumer experience.”

Putting the you in UX

Companies like Nike have realized that they’re no longer just making and marketing products; they’re really in the business of crafting user experiences.

As Dan Maccarone, CEO and co-founder of product design firm Charming Robot, puts it, “The experience is the brand.”

In an omnichannel world, the user experience starts long before customers put their hands on the product or download the app. It encompasses everything from advertising and website design to social media, retail displays, packaging, the Muzak that’s playing as shoppers enter the store, the help they receive from a salesperson or a chatbot and the subject line on the emailed receipt.

“When people think about Adidas, they don’t think, ‘Here’s Adidas the shoe, here’s Adidas the box, here’s Adidas the app, here’s Adidas the retail experience,'” says Dan Gardner, co-founder and CEO of Code and Theory, a digital-first creative agency. “They’re just thinking, ‘This is Adidas.'”

Managing all of that is an enormous challenge, and few brands are doing a consistently good job of it, says Kevin Kearney, vp of product for global design firm Elephant.

“Part of the reason is that brands have never had to manage so many touch points before, which often involves multiple internal teams and external agencies that, let’s be honest, aren’t always talking to each other,” Kearney says. “We’re constantly coordinating across business units and asking questions like, ‘Is the team running the Facebook account handling support? Who’s determining the hashtag strategy on Instagram and what does that tie to? Why are the point-of-purchase screens in channel not aligned with what’s on the website’s product page, and why is that messaging completely disconnected from the current advertising campaign?'”

Uber and Lyft: The ride-sharing services have changed how we navigate cities, says Adobe's Khoi Vinh. "It used to be when you landed in a city you had to get a map and figure out everything on your own," he says. "These apps have become entry ways to new urban experiences."

Another common problem with UX design is that brands put too much emphasis on visual elements and not enough on the experience they’re actually providing, says Andrew Hogan, senior analyst on experience design and interfaces for Forrester Research.

“They get really focused on user interface design, like what color the buttons on the mobile app should be,” Hogan says. “They don’t actually get at the deeper stuff, like whether this product is good or useful in any real way.”

This story first appeared in the July 23, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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