The Rise of Seamless Customer Experience

Noteworthy shifts in brand & product design

Max Heirbaut
Dec 31, 2015 · 9 min read
The inspiration for Google Glass? Star Trek’s Lt. Geordi La Forge. Three years ago, Google said that Star Trek is the inspiration behind much of its work.

The year 2016, and the future it will bring, is upon us! More than ever is bringing value to brand experiences the key to success. Nowadays it’s all about protecting the brand promise while being super-creative with your communication — touching customers with the right message, at the right time. Preferably even in real time! Over the past years, brand design has been undergoing a shift and is becoming more interactive. Pioneering brands let consumers become a more active part of the once known one-way conversation. A traditional approach towards brand or product design never goes out of style, but in the nearby future we’ll see which brands are savvy enough to keep up with the new trends. As the saying goes: “If you want to do something new, you have to stop doing something old.”

  1. Zero User Interface
Amazon Echo is designed around your voice. Ask it for music, news, weather, information, and more. Get answers instantly.

Designs are made to be visual. For better or for worse. It’s because the most essential products we interact with are the ones with screens. But what if those screens disappear? It’s becoming more clear that in the nearby future we’ll be surrounded with devices that can hear our words, sense our gestures and anticipate our needs. What does that mean for the future of design? And what will it be like when our interfaces are no longer forced into screens? Designers will instead have to turn to haptic, automated and ambient interfaces to replace their former visual self.

It’s all about getting away from the touchscreen and interacting directly with devices in a more natural way. Like talking to the Amazon Echo, changing channels by waving at a Microsoft Kinect, or setting up a Nest thermostat. Zero UI is the design component for technologies like haptic, computer vision, voice control, and — one of my personal favourites — artificial intelligence. This nifty group is a part of what some of us like to call the internet of things.

We’re on the verge of a whole new era of non-visual design possibilities that needs to be explored and wrestled with. Instead of designing in the dimensions we knew computers could handle, linear stuff in a predictable workflow, designers need to predict what an human user is trying to do in any possible workflow. Will the next step be embedding the future UI in our bodies?

2. Death of authenticity

An example of an Instagram post by the viral account @socialitybarbie

2015 was the year of clichéd hashtags like #liveauthentic and the carefully crafted images that accompany them. The Instagram account is the perfect parody that went viral this year. The word “authentic” has become a hollow promise and consumers started rejecting buzzwords in favor of real value.

It’s all about hearing a real-world delivery, that’s where the power is at. The power of accessing a universe of information feels very normal to a lot of us right now, but if you think of it’s pretty surreal to be able to hold every little thing you want insight on in a device you can carry along in your pocket, or even on your wrist! Consumers are ever more skeptical of thin brand claims and will look for brands that provide true quality and value. Brands that can demonstrate a deep understanding of customer needs and issues will win them over in 2016.

3. Designing for glances. Living life in the very fast lane.

Starbucks introduced an Apple watch app where it allows customers to order and pay ahead.

They say good design is functional. Great design however, is invisible. Designers will have to focus more on creating convenient, seamless and nearly invisible experiences so customers are able to digest content even faster. Brands will have to anticipate to serve future customer’s needs and develop quicker ways to do so.

The year 2016 will be all about meaningful and innovative brand interactions to serve customers faster than ever. Smartwatches will make payments in store happen faster and therefor queues will partially disappear. Brands will allow customers to order and pay ahead from their smartwatch. Starbucks already allows customers to order ahead and pick up their coffee on the way to work. Seamless personalisation of daily needs is just around the corner!

4. Digital goes emotional

Understanding people’s needs is at the core of design. As consumers continually set the bar higher in terms of expectations, the brand has to find new ways to understand these needs — preferably in real time. This way, they can create relevant content and experiences that meet those specific personal needs, life and behavior of the consumer.

You can look at it as some sort of new social agreement between the consumer and the brand. One that’s pushing brands to get smarter and more thoughtful to serve customers needs through data. People give designers an insight through their data, so they can then translate this behavior into insights and adapt their designs to it. We’ve reached the tipping point in the consumer mind-set when it comes to the use of personal data. Instead of blocking to give away a part of their digital behavior, they now understand that marketers need their data and accept the fact that brands actually use it to deliver enhanced experiences.

5. 3D printing: The future of retail

Adidas announced Futurecraft, a 3D-printed running shoe that can be tailored to the exact contours of the wearer’s feet.

The retail industry is just one of the many reasons why the expectations for 3D printing are so high. The constantly evolving business that is retail already launches new products and brands every week. With the opportunities 3D printing will bring to the table, retail business models are about to be reconceived so they can speed up manufacturing processes. For example by removing the factories from their retail stream and instead print on site. This gives the brand the opportunity to change styles in real-time, adapting both social and cultural, consumer feedback.

Creation will have a different, shorter cycle. The process of both strategy and design will also be questioned. Branding work will have a shorter life span and designers will have to adapt to a new medium where brands and products interact with the potential consumer in multidimensional ways.

Sports brand Nike already offers 3D printed shoes such as the Vapour HyperAgility Cleat, and both Adidas as New Balance announced that they will be integrating 3D printed midsoles for a better performing running-shoe. Imagine a future where we’ll travel without any luggage and where we will be able to 3D-print new clothes from stores like H&M or Zara from our hotel room. Maybe we’ll even select hotels based on where we can exclusively 3D-print the newest pair of sneakers, as a part of our hotel experience.

6. Offline is the new online

After offering their signature Home Try-on glasses, Warby Parker opened flagship stores to grow brand awareness towards new customers.

The growing number of Internet retailers will decide to make the shift from online to offline. The modern e-commerce business model is one built not just in bits and bytes, but in bricks and mortar. Besides it being a trend, it’s even more interesting to see what the online guys are doing with physical space.

Where e-commerce once threatened to destroy the traditional retail and brand experience, customers will once again pick in-person interactions over digital ones. It allows them to connect with the brand and emotionally relate to it. Expect many online-native companies to return to actual stores, where they combine an excellent in-store customer experience and the flexibility of personalisation provided by the digital part. Historical online brand Amazon recently opened its first physical bookstore in Seattle, for example. Cool kids on the block Warby Parker started opening physical stores in NYC a few years ago. The consumer response to the store was so successful that the company plans to open seven more stores by the beginning of 2016.

7. The battle for the home

The Nest Thermostat is one that programs itself. It helps save energy. And you can control it from anywhere on your phone, laptop, or tablet.

With the upswing of connected devices, the entire home is being reinventing as one big data product. It’s been a long-standing battle between TV providers, the movie industry and gaming console makers to win over the living room. In 2016, that contest will expand to a competition that focuses on the entire home instead of one room. With Google’s acquisition of Nest Labs, the giant is on the forefront when it comes to integrated home systems. If they can integrate Nest technology with the rest of the home, it would give consumers the ability to fully control each one of their environments.

2016 will be the year where companies will offer more consolidated, easily managed digital home systems. Design and branding agencies will have to find ways to clearly design brand identities that adapt and explain complex systems in an easy-to-use way.

8. Identifying brands through audio

A brand is a set of perceptions and images that represent a company, product or service. While many people refer to a brand as a logo or tag line, it’s undoubtably much larger. The Harvard Business Review noted that sound and music can introduce people to a brand in a unique way, calling audio one of the most “overlooked” and “undervalued” resources available for branding. Marketers have been using audio branding for years: Intel’s five-note bong and NBC’s three-note chime are a few of the most notable examples.

In 2016, a broader spectrum of brands will make every effort to take advantage of audio branding to cut through the visual clutter and by doing so, increasing consumer awareness or introducing new products. Skype recently introduced new sounds for its product’s features. Sounds that alert users to specific actions within the Skype brand. Audio awareness, from messages and calls to personalised notifications, so that when consumers hear it, they will think of the brand. Honda, on the other hand, added sound snippets of roaring engines at the end of their ads to evoke power and speed, so consumers think of the Honda brand every time they hear those sounds.

9. Innovation < Usefulness

There’s a lot of hype around the word ‘innovation’. Innovative things come and go, useful things on the other hand…stay around for a long time. It’s never nearly enough for a product or service to simply be innovative. A better way of driving business is to ask yourself: “Is the product that I am building useful?”

2015 was the year of the anticlimaxed exit of Google Glass, which is reportedly now getting redesigned and re-marketed. All because of clever conceived feedback from customers who have experienced a number of difficulties, whether or not by other people’s behavior. (ref.: Google Glassholes.) It’s great to dream and think out of the box but it’s important for designers to recognise that consumers who live in a 2.0 or 3.0 world, are seeking meaningful ideas, not just innovation for innovation’s sake. They have to make the consumer’s life easier.

10. Local brands = Global brands

In a world where borders are fading through social media sharing and global e-commerce, there’s no such thing as a strictly local brand. 2016 might be the time where we stop following prescribed media plans once-and-for-all.

Marketers must better understand how their brands and their messaging are traveling outside traditional borders and platforms, and consider how to create messages that resonate with local audiences as well as an emerging, unified global culture. Brand designs have to be adaptive to cultural cues, product names and colors. A consistent global positioning may not be the only factor that influences both global and regional consumers, but it is the cornerstone of all successful growth strategies. Leading international icons have always been focused on the translation of their brands’ core values towards global customers.

In 2016, brands and companies will cry out for help in understanding local cultures and their nuances. Language, region and demographics are important, but none can replace the importance of having a brand that can speak a universal language and touch the hearts and minds of consumers across the world.

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is a global creative director & designer, shot taker and word slinger. He strives to create work that explores the various facets of design in the realms of digital and physical.

Max Heirbaut

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Creative director & designer. From Antwerp 🇧🇪 to New York 🇺🇸 to Stockholm 🇸🇪 -