The process of service, product and experience design has been greatly shaped by the capabilities of digital, and the technology which is now prevalent in the stack of many leading brands. But in a twist of fate, the evolution of design is looping back on itself, as marketers are compelled to use these technological advances to make their offering – wait for it – more human. Figaro Digital caught up with Tania Philip, VP of Product at Shutterstock, to talk about how consumers are challenging the accepted practices of digital design, and the kinds of questions marketers must keep in mind for the next stage in design evolution.
One of the major challenges facing marketers when it comes to human-centred design is that the innovations shaping design have brought with them a host of new metrics and jargon. This language is useful for defining a brand’s preposition in the area, but doesn’t necessarily translate across to the human consumer on the other side of the coin. “Digital has become so impersonal,” says Philip. As brands invest in their own stories and define their mission statements, it’s easy for the customer’s needs to be assumed or overlooked in the process. “We need to be creating brands that invest in deeper emotional connections with their users. How else can we break through to consumers who are focussed on their own digital bubble?”
A focus on metrics and KPIs at the expense of the consumer puts digital in danger of becoming a victim of its own success. So how should brands be addressing the balance between digital and analogue in order to break through that barrier? “Social media is a really great channel for bridging this divide and understanding what the needs of your consumer really are,” says Philip. “At Shutterstock, a lot of our users actually interact with our CEO via Twitter and give him suggestions directly, and we use that as a mechanism to gain customer insight.” Social media is one channel where the divide between brand and consumer is often thinner, where brands can take the opportunity to communicate with their audience in a slightly more casual and conversant manner. “It actually benefits you, the brand, to know who your customers are, to give them that voice and make them feel like they can actually engage with the brand and inform what those products and services actually look like,” continues Philip.
Check Where Your Audience Are
Maintaining that open relationship on different channels can also inform a brand of discrepancies within its audience segmentation that might not have been apparent otherwise. “Historically at Shutterstock, we have supplied to creative professionals,” explains Philip, “but when we really dug deeper into our audience segments, we realised that actually a lot of them were small business owners, who wanted our services but didn’t necessarily have the skill set in order to make the most of our product.” This understanding enabled Shutterstock to adapt their product mix to cater for this range of ability. Shutterstock’s Editor tool incorporates templates, educational video and a streamlined, simple interface to show this audience segment that their creative or design experience is not a barrier to producing their own creative with Shutterstock’s resources.
But as user behaviour continues to evolve, how can brands anticipate consumer needs which might not yet be apparent? As changing technology challenges customer expectations, brands must understand how the needs of their customer are likely to change over time, in terms of their requirements, the communications they receive, and their interaction with a brand. One group of consumers which is more in tune with this changing narrative is Generation Z; digitally native, experience-loyal, and more receptive to brand messaging. So how can brands make sure that those needs are catered for as part of the overall customer journey, and not just through the capabilities of a single product? “Generation Z has entered the workforce, they’re on the marketer’s radar, and they’re growing in purchasing power and influence,” says Philip. “So how is that voice changing, and how can we make sure we’re still connecting with them?”
The Culture Of Impatience
One major influence is the proliferation of real-time insight. Impatience is a defining characteristic of the current digital space, and the ‘now’ culture has left audiences better connected, and more demanding than ever before. So how has this influenced design? “Users know when they want information, but they don’t necessarily want it pushed on them,” explains Philip. “The brand always thinks that ‘now’ is the most important time, but really it’s about pre-empting a longer, more comprehensive customer journey, and understanding how your products and communications fit in along that pathway.” Brands can do this by taking an objective and detailed look at their customer data, to understand the likely pain points and know the optimum moments to engage, or step back from their communications, over time. “The adverse of this is that a brand becomes too heavy with its targeting, where it becomes intrusive and aggressive. We need to make sure as marketers that we are not being invasive, but additive to that experience.”
The need for human-centred design is even more vitally important for B2B brands, as it needs to be closely aligned to the industry the business operates in as well as the relevant consumer. Different industries will have different priorities when it comes to user experience, and these will inform the kinds of capabilities that are extended to the final user. “The nuances of the business dictate very important considerations that will be unique to that product,” says Philip. “If you consider the start-up industry, you want to make sure that scalability is front of mind. For the medical industry, the human, personal element is much more important, because of the nature of that role. The finance industry might have a particularly strong focus on efficiency, and the ability to make a large team function smoothly and transparently.” While the overarching benefits of these industries can offer insight into the kinds of innovation relevant to each sector, Philip reminds us that marketers shouldn’t overgeneralise when segmenting their user base. “Industry does play a huge role in this, but don’t forget the human element. For every aspect of the process remember that first and foremost you’re working with people. Bring in that human element and use it to drive the customer’s cultural value within the company. That is the key.”