Brand and Software User Experience
By Nalini Kotamraju on Dec 05, 2007
Nalini Kotamraju is a user researcher in xDesign, and holds a Ph.D. in Sociology. She has a penchant for research methods and telling it exactly like it is
I recently spoke to Soraya Younossi, xDesign’s Art Director and Brand Liaison.
Nalini: Tell me about the role of the Brand Experience Group and its relationship to xDesign.
Soraya: As it applies to our software applications, the overall objective of our brand is to ensure that there is an integrated user experience throughout our product offerings. Our objective is to set UI standards that not only meet but exceed our customers' expectations. We must convey a unified and coherent design system that embodies our values and vision.
In order to achieve a seamless user experience across products and platforms, we take on an inclusive approach to design with an emphasis on communication and sharing. We collaborate with teams throughout Sun in an effort to integrate and bridge brand and design standards.
The consumer experiences our brand on a subjective visual plane first and foremost. It is the gateway that sets all the users' expectations that follow. It is therefore critical that the brand expressions and interaction designs are aligned to ensure that we meet our customers’ expectations.
We have taken on a tremendous challenge in setting standards that express our values and culture. These values are captured on many levels of the interaction experience. The look-and-feel is a powerful signifier of real change. The brand promise and reputation rely on how these standards transcend into the deeper levels of the interaction design and user experience.Nalini: Can you tell me a bit about Nimbus?
Nimbus embodies the design system that defines our software and desktop applications' look-and-feel. It captures our unique values and differentiates us from our competitors. It is a design system that is inclusive and complementary to Sun's overall strategic goals.
It is a system that has been informed by all of Sun’s product offerings. We have examined all of the related touch points--from the web to software to desktop and hardware designs--to ensure a coherent brand expression that transcends domains and reflects one unified message that is aligned with Sun’s strategic goals.
This message has been captured in the choice of the color palette to the stylistic design elements that define and make our interface designs unique. We were conscientious in considering cross-platform constraints to ensure that we would complement the user experience in a consistent manner.
Nalini: What aspects of Nimbus stand out for you?
Soraya: Nimbus is a sophisticated and contemporary design system that is relevant to our times. It reflects a refinement that opens possibilities for designers such as myself. The framework is sound and provides the flexibility for growth and evolution.
My main concern is to ensure that we stay consistent in the implementation of the Nimbus design system and that the design does not stagnate and continues to evolve. It is critical to continue the evolution of the design principles in order to stay competitive in the marketplace.
There is so much that is captured in the framework that still needs to be expressed and showcased in our product offerings. One particular aspect that is of great interest to me is the dimension that falls between the visual design system and the interaction design. It falls into the subjective realm of the brand experience that reflects the detail of care and informs the quality of the user experience.
It is an aspect of the Nimbus framework that we have not addressed to the degree that is needed. It is the element that bridges and satisfies both right and left brain activity. In its simplest expression it ties back to an user experience that not only supports but enhances a particular interaction. We need to move forward and think dynamically, not just statically, about an interface design. I believe that this is part of the challenge that we, as designers, need to address.
Nalini: I’ve often heard the complaint that branding adds complexity to product design, and I’ve heard you say that branding brings simplicity. Can you speak to that?
Soraya: A successful brand translation is about providing a unified message and the guidelines that support it. I would argue that interaction designers focus on the core design features and then provide the standards that help set user expectations.
In order to do that, we simplify the product design by providing guidelines to standards that help enable users to fulfill their tasks. These standards ensure that our customers can rely on a framework that has been implemented consistently throughout our product offerings. These are the building blocks that guide and inform the designers. The manner in which they are combined and structured is up to the individual teams, which shape the creative thinking, individual expression and brand evolution
Nalini: What would you say if I suggested that Sun’s core audience–developers and system administrators–have less of a need than do average consumers to respond emotionally to our products?
Soraya: As I mentioned earlier, everyone is subject to an emotional response to any interaction. It’s a question of weather you choose to validate that or not.
Our goal is to enhance the interaction and user experience of our product offerings. Now, if that improvement is experienced on a subjective as well as an objective plane, then I don’t see a conflict. My personal belief is that a successful product has to capture and take into consideration both the objective as well as the subjective user experience. What is critical is that we meet users' expectations of our product features and help enhance users' ability to do their work in a seamless and supportive framework.