Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Branding and Value-Centered Design: accepted paper at CHI2008 Workshop

I'd like to share come relfections on the relationships between product design and communication design, which will be soon published in a recently accepted position paper at CHI 2008 Workshop on Values, Value and Worth, written by me, Franca Garzotto and Paolo Paolini.
The paper is entitled "Branding and Value-Centered Design".
Here in the following I report an important idea from the paper which illuminated my understanding of interactive communication.

Brand “Product Experience” vs Brand “Communication Experience”
A digital brand experience can take place in two distinct macro-scenarios: branded digital “products” and branded digital “communication artifacts”.
When designing an ICT product, brand values are typically embedded in the features of the product itself, as these can drive, for example, adoption, satisfaction, and brand retention in the users. Apple’s iPhone is an exemplar result of effective “branded product design”. The fact that it is perceived as “[…] a typical piece of Apple’s design: an austere, abstract, Platonic-looking form that somehow also manages to feel warm, organic and ergonomic” [5] highlights that the product embeds all Apple’s brand values, and is able to convey them.
Branded product design makes a similar assumption as Values Sensitive Design (VSD) [4] in HCI, and focuses on the user experience that is confined within the boundaries of the interaction with the product itself. In other words, branded product design considers the user’s exposure to brand values (of the entity behind the digital artifact) that occurs within the physical and psychological space of the interaction with the product (see Figure 1). This kind of brand experience corresponds to the Laffley’s [7] second moment of truth, which may occurs over and over again as the interaction with the product persists.

In the design of a brand “communication experience”, the role of values and the way users are exposed to them is quite different, an more similar to the philosophy of Value Centered Design [3]. A brand “communication experience takes place when a user gets in touch with a branded digital communication artifact, i.e., an interactive object which is intended to be primarily a communication means by which a subject, being it a company, an educational or cultural institution, a charity, a governmental body, an artist, or any other entity, can establish or reinforce its brand image. Websites are a typical example of branded communication artifacts. Through the web, an “entity” not only can offer services and inform its stakeholders, but also interact with them; it can also build and maintain a stronger relationship, influence their attitudes and behavior, and finally deliver a promise of values. The actual fulfillment of this promise is something that the user can actually experience (and verify) outside the boundaries of the interaction with the artifact.

The interaction with a digital communication artifact corresponds to Laffley’s first moment of truth, when the user experiences a “product on the shelf”. It offers a preliminary brand experience aimed at conveying the promise of another, more substantial brand experience that will occur in a different space. For example, a university website should somehow embody the university “brand values” in the design of its content, layout, services, information architecture. Some of them could be functional to communicate and to persuade potential students about the “quality of the teaching”, “the excellence in research”, and the “exciting life on campus”. This communication should lead the user to have actual (substantial) experiences with the entity behind the web based brand experience (i.e., the university) in other contexts, e.g. by enrolling to the university, by contacting the university office to know more. It is in these actual experiences (second moment of truth) that the user can verify those promises and experience these values in his/her life.

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