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From Distortion to Cooperation

By Jens Grefen

Based on an article from a conversation with Andy Payne (Interbrand Global Chief Creative Officer) Chris Campbell (Executive Creative Director North America) & Forest Young (Creative Director New York).

Brands nowadays face different challenges than they did in previous decades. Everything is connected, preferences are anticipated, and pretty much everything can be customized in today’s world. Data on practically everything is collected, and can be used to offer the best customized experience possible. The Age of You has arrived. Brands that are transitioning to this new age will need cutting-edge tools (and thinking) to translate their visions into marketable products and services. But how will they humanize big data and make the Internet of Things truly blossom? When a classic corporate design or corporate identity based on fixed rules doesn’t cut it anymore, how are designers affected? How can anyone create a system that is flexible on the one hand, but manageable on the other? More than simply creating visual language, designers will increasingly be called upon to join up the disjointed, simplify the complex, and enable experiences that are as simple and user-friendly as they are pleasant. In order to imagine and prototype the future, both designers and brand owners will need to squarely confront the challenges of the present – and think more radically about what's next.

An era of distortion In our current age, the Age of Experience, giant platform-driven brands like Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple have been hugely successful – and they're gathering a lot of potentially useful data – but they also have a distorted portrait of who their users are. They each have a sliver, but not the full picture: Google knows what you search for, Amazon knows what you buy and what kinds of deliveries you prefer, Facebook knows who your friends are and what you "like," and Apple knows how you use your devices and what kind of computing experiences you prefer. So what's wrong with this picture? Well, there is no true data reflection that you can monetize or transact. Imagine how precisely needs and desires could be anticipated if current data sources expanded and brand ecosystems were "talking" to one another, sharing information? What if, for example, you announced on Facebook that you were traveling to a particular destination and that information was transmitted to Amazon, which could then make a truly timely and relevant recommendation-literally just what you were looking for (i.e., the ultimate travel guide to the region you plan to visit)? The potential for added value is enormous.

Everything you need-and nothing that you don't

The promise of big data is to enable brands to provide more of what consumers need (even before they know they need it) and, ideally, nothing that they don't. 

In a world exploding with choices, often overwhelmingly so, brands can play a vital role in helping consumers overcome "choice paralysis."

In the Age of You, through a combination of curation and modularity, brands can offer enough choices to satisfy consumer needs for variety, but not so many that people get discouraged and abandon their search for a particular product or service. Brands will have to figure out how to break up their offerings in ways that allow consumers to customize, combine, or pick and choose only the elements that they want.

To apply a food service analogy, some consumers will want a prix fixe, some will want a buffet, some will want à la carte, and some will demand a unique, highly curated experience. This puts greater pressure on brands to create continuity in this modular scenario as well as a consistently rich and satisfying experience across the board-otherwise consumers may begin "editing out" the aspects of the journey that aren't working for them.

The Age of You is about the brand of "you"

From our social media profiles to our purchase histories and web behavior, our data increasingly reflects who we are. And brands, seeing the value in knowing us better, have already begun to tailor their products, events, services, and offers to suit us. Personalization is now an expectation.

Today's customers are co-creative-their demands dictate distribution, their voices have more impact than ever, and they expect to be able to connect to any person or company whenever they want. They aren't just choosing. As we enter the Age of You, consumers have evolved into makers, designers, architects, and vocal commentators who expect companies, brands, and experiences to be shaped around them. And consumer data, incidentally, is enabling the transition to a more open, customer-centric paradigm.

In this coming world of connected machines and sensors everywhere, people will also be more connected, supply chains will reorganize around individuals, and ecosystems will become Mecosystems. As a result, rather than telling consumers what they should want, brands will have to listen to what consumers need and adapt accordingly. They will have to become more open systems themselves, more modular, and have the ability to interconnect and partner with others.

Already in the midst of this transition, consumers-from bloggers and reviewers to YouTube stars-are aware of the value of their content and, soon, they will recognize the value of their data. We can anticipate people essentially thinking, "I am out there building my own (personal) brand, and I'm important too. I know my data is valuable to others, so I recognize it as a currency. If I'm going to give you my data, what are you going to give me in return?"

Trust before love

To build that data relationship, love for your brand is not enough. Trust is essential. While there may be a changing definition and understanding of privacy among younger generations, as brands increasingly become entrusted with more sensitive matters-from mobile commerce transactions to healthcare and home security-trust will take on enormous importance.

Google, for example, proved how secure Google Hangouts were when U.S. National Security Agency whistle-blower Edward Snowden participated in a virtual discussion from Russia (where he sought asylum) at the South by Southwest Interactive Festival 2014. By demonstrating its dedication to encryption beyond a shadow of a doubt, Google earned the public's trust and now has license to move into mobile. In order to deepen data relationships and expand successfully into new territory, brands must work toward progressive disclosure (through sharing) and strengthen credibility in areas that matter to consumers.

Under these ultra-secure conditions, brands must also demonstrate greater flexibility, allowing consumers to choose only what is relevant. In the Age of You, clarity of the brand and its role in the world will be key.

Design as a force that connects

Today, users interact with brands across more touchpoints than ever before-and they know more about brands than ever before. So, what role does design play in this new world of big data; open, connected ecosystems; myriad channels; and ever-growing security concerns?

From e-mail and phone support to web and mobile, consumers consider these and other interactions as part of their overall user experience with a brand. For that reason, it has become critical for companies and organizations to offer a seamless experience across channels-and for designers to consider the entire customer journey, not just a single interaction. As we transition from the Age of Experience to the Age of You, and the line between the digital and the physical continues to blur, continuity of experience between channels and devices will be paramount. But the quality of the design language and the richness of the experience are also going to become increasingly important, especially as that experience extends beyond smartphones, tablets, and desktops.

An expanded toolkit

More screens are becoming Internet connected-and now there are also wearables, TVs, watches, next-generation gaming systems, and other devices that require interface design. While the current responsive approach to design mainly focuses on how to scale webpages to various screen sizes, what brands really need to consider is how to adapt the overall user experience to each particular device. By understanding how customers are using their devices, brands can create adaptivedesign experiences tailored to each device. Apple, for example, is already moving in this direction. Promoting new products on its website using a nonlinear scrolling feature is one way the brand is inviting users to interact on a deeper level. But can we take interaction even deeper? Can we actually move beyond the screen itself?

The liberation of the pixel

From robotic construction kits with "kinetic memory" to paintbrushes that can be wiped over real-world objects to pick up their color and then paint it back onto a canvas using "digital ink," digital experiences, according to MIT Media Lab's Hiroshi Ishii, are going to move beyond the screen and become truly interactive in the realest sense.

In the March 2013 U.K. edition of Wired magazine, Ishii explained the importance of involving the body: "These days computers dominate. Everything is pixels, intangible . . . you can see but you can't touch." Ishii's work aims to bring information up to the "surface of the water," exposing physical embodiments of digital information he refers to as "tangible bits"-an approach he believes will make computation more "legible."

Of course, for designers, a world liberated from the pixel is one that abounds with creative opportunity. Yet, those who are designing for a more realistic, immersive experience will require enhanced sensibility-a kind of sixth sense. Design will be multisensory and could, at that point, shift from hierarchies of size and scale to hierarchies of proximity. Designers won't be creating just a visual sense of your brand-such as information projected and augmented around the user, as depicted in the movie Minority Report-but also, perhaps, incorporating sonic cues, music, sensations and scents.

The Age of You and the connected systems and technological wonders that will characterize it open up completely new creative possibilities for consumers, designers, and brand owners alike. While we can only speculate on how all this might evolve, whatever the interface layouts of the future will be, today's designers will be setting the bar-and brands will be benefitting from higher levels of engagement.

Based on an article from a conversation with Andy Payne (Interbrand Global Chief Creative Officer) Chris Campbell (Executive Creative Director North America) & Forest Young (Creative Director New York)

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