As a designer, I’m always captivated when it comes to my favourite part of the branding process – imagining and designing all the beautiful, tangible ways a brand could work; thick, weighty stocks, satiny metallic foils, intricately folded print pieces, creatively lit interiors.
However, it can seem a little trickier to continue that lovingly crafted brand online; without all those tactile elements, how on earth can I convey the core of the brand experience with the same impact?
From a die-hard print designer in my early career, I’ve grown to love working with websites and digital design – for similar reasons, if not using the same techniques. It makes sense to me too, now that so much of our world is digital, to place the same level of care and finesse into a brand’s online presence. A great website is an incredibly effective marketing tool, and as such, should be equally representative of a brand’s story, experience and aesthetic as any other part of the business.
I’ve compiled a list of a few points I’ve learned along the way, that help when it comes to making brands work online.
1. Be consistent
Picture this common scenario: offline, your brand is dark, mysterious, premium and extravagant, with considered details and luxurious print finishes. Online, however, your website is quite different; light, bright and minimalist, leaving users with an odd disconnect between the two brand experiences.
Obviously this isn’t ideal – when it comes to making a brand work effectively, consistency in tone and detail across every touch point and interaction is critical. People should have the same response from interacting with your brand whether they are in store (for example), on your website or looking through your Instagram profile. I see this issue quite often – where a brand that does extraordinary work offline, fails to reach the mark when it comes to their digital presence (Aesop, I’m looking at you).
Naturally, on a website, we can’t recreate the effect of a stunning foil stamp on a brochure, or of delicately designed mood lighting in a space. However, we can take the tone and emotion that those offline experiences evoke, and translate them into the digital medium, in the same way that we would translate the aesthetic of an interior into the design of a print piece.
It might not take on the same form, but the level of detail, the ambience, the overall feeling of the experience, should create a common thread between each brand interaction, from print to environment to digital.
2. Tell a story that people can see and experience
Now, with so much of a brand’s relationship with its consumers living online, branding is less about people simply being aware of you and more about the experiences and interactions a user has with your brand – how they choose to emotionally invest with the story you’re telling.
A brand has to be engaging enough for people to want to spend time with it, and the same goes for its website. When designing the interactions your users can have with your site, think about the brand’s personality. How do you want your user’s interactions with the site to make them feel – curious, amazed, peaceful? How does your brand move – does it slide, bounce, flicker, pulse, glow? Try to align the way the site moves, and how users move through it, with the essence of your brand’s story.
3. Be responsive
So often when designing we try to create designs that mirror themselves across all devices: mobile sites look like smaller versions of desktop sites, desktop sites use collapsed menus. I feel that this can be an unhelpful approach – different devices have different limitations and advantages, so why not adapt your user experience and content to match?
While it’s important that your mobile website lives up to the desktop site and provides a comparable experience, they don’t have to correlate exactly. Consider what features or content are relevant or irrelevant to each platform, and design accordingly.
4. Bend and stretch
For brands, one of the nicest things about the digital space is the freedom and flexibility you have. Your brand can flex and flow to fit across every brand touch point.
I absolutely love seeing a brand than not only works beautifully online, but is responsive itself so that when your website is optimised for a device, the brand is also optimised to the space it’s in. That is; the brand is distinct and recognisable in more than one layout or size, with or without all its elements.
An adaptive, flexible approach to branding across typography, colour and brandmark accentuates the brand itself, increasing users’ familiarity with your brand and enriching their experience with it.
5. But keep it simple
Don’t complicate and feel the need to add every single function, or every type of content. A website that throws in every trick in the book can be overwhelming and confusing.
Depending on the scale of your project, consider choosing a few, targeted techniques and do them well. Focus on what your user needs from your brand and tailor the digital experience to those needs, without overproviding.
A dramatically simple, direct website with a targeted message can be just as powerful, if not more so, than one with full social media integration and complex animated transitions. Call upon the timeless wisdom of Chanel, and take one thing off before you leave the house.
What it comes down to for me is not treating a brand’s website as a different beast, but rather as a critical and integral way for people to interact with the pure essence of that brand.
There are so many ways that digital media can be taken advantage of to create a richer, deeper and more engaging brand experience than leafing through a brochure could ever provide.
With technology that is constantly evolving, it’s one of the most exciting ways to work with design and branding. Make it your priority!