Why you should be leveraging Archetypal Psychology in UX/UI Design.

It’s increasingly common to find a brand’s eCommerce presence in a state of identity crisis. Branding is often an afterthought in our new startup culture and the digital extension of a brand loses priority to marketing & advertising initiatives.

As a UX/UI designer, I’m paid to make strategic, visual decisions informed by a number of sources. One of these sources of information should always be the brand I’m designing for! A problem arises when the brand I’m designing for is a jumbled mess of stakeholder opinions, past designer’s personal styles, or it has simply evolved beyond its original concept.

Lucky for you and me Archetypal Psychology offers a solution to this chaos, giving us 12 brand archetypes to be used as a repeatable system backed by data to clarify a brand’s meaning and maintain its integrity.

Archetypal Psychology has been utilized by marketing and advertising professionals for decades, and even appears as a tool applied in political campaigns and PR strategy. Data shows that when a brand identifies strongly with a singular archetype it is much more likely to grow in monetary value and esteem. (Another article to come on that later, but for now reference The Hero and The Outlaw for research details.) All of this information begs the question — why aren’t we harnessing this school of thought for digital storefronts and UX thinking?


Before we go any further, what are archetypes?

Here’s the highlight reel…

The concept of archetypes has been studied since some of the earliest civilizations. Borrowed from classic thinkers like Cicero and Plato, the idea was eventually developed into a system by psychiatrist Carl Jung in the early 20th century. Jung viewed archetypes as forms or images that are understood by everyone’s subconscious (despite cultural bias) and determined that they can be used to understand human motivation and behavior. These archetypes were later applied to business and marketing by leadership consultant Carol Pearson and marketing consultant Margaret Mark (authors of The Hero and the Outlaw: Building Extraordinary Brands Through the Power of Archetypes) as a system to manage brand meaning or sentiment.

TL;DR Think of these archetypes as personas for your brand that help keep it authentic and honest.

The 12 Brand Archetypes we know today represent universally recognized figures or characters that play leading roles on this stage we call life. They’re used to anchor your brand against something iconic; something subconsciously understood by users. When a brand successfully embodies an archetype, users notice. Without realizing it, they pick up on visual and written cues that help them more quickly understand the brand’s story and motives. This understanding leads to trust and trust leads to conversion and loyalty.

12 Brand Archetypes, Sourced from http://www.your-a-game.com

3 most impactful ways Archetypal Psychology can improve UX/UI solutions.

1. Develop a stronger emotional connection between the user and the digital storefront or product.

Don Norman, researcher, professor, and author of Design of Everyday Things says,“Cognition makes sense of the world; emotion assigns value”. If you’ve ever gut checked a decision — you know exactly what he’s talking about.

You see, the reason you get a “gut feeling” or you know when something is “just right” has nothing at all to do with language or facts. Instead, these feelings are deeply rooted in emotional responses processed by our limbic brain (which has no capacity for language). Neuroscientist Richard Restak says, “rational decisions tend to take longer to make…and can be of lower quality. In contrast, decisions made with the limbic brain, gut decisions, tend to be faster, higher-quality decisions.” In UX buzzwords, this translates to reduced friction, reduced cognitive load, and potentially even fewer returned products. Yowza!

If designing for emotion is already at the forefront of your process — you go Glen Coco. However, what I suspect (and what I personally find to be true) is that it’s exceptionally challenging, if not an afterthought. Instead of struggling to trigger an emotional response via a particular feature or functionality, invest time in communicating your brand’s archetype holistically. If you can get users to connect with your brand’s deeper meaning, the rest will come naturally.

2. Align key project stakeholders on a unified vision.

Poor alignment on a brands primary characteristics such as voice, values, color+type, and photography leads to frustration and confusion across the board. Whether your brand is being miscommunicated internally, or misrepresented externally, neither is favorable. Remote teammates and third parties are at especially high risk of poor alignment because they don’t have the same familiarity with a brand that an in-house team might.

Startups often take on the voice and aesthetic preferences of its founder(s), but by the time the business has grown to the point that the founder is no longer involved in the day to day decisions — who makes these calls?

Selecting a brand archetype that appeals to the target audience enables us to separate out personal opinion and/or individual preferences and develop a unique personality for the brand as an entity. This makes the brand easier to identify in the minds of not only the primary stakeholder, but also the different arms of a brand (marketing/advertising teams, e-commerce teams, product development teams, etc.). This alignment translates to the public because outward messaging reflects internal alignment.

3. Increase brand awareness via quality control across all brand touch points.

In the digital age, we know that brand is experienced through more touch-points than ever. This could be printed marketing materials, packaging, social media, digital storefront, digital marketing, and even company culture. In order to build brand awareness and trust, it is important that all of these touch-points are equally thoughtful in the way they communicate the brand.

While many brands seem to be throwing budget and time into aligning their marketing efforts with an archetype, few seem to be putting this same effort into their digital storefronts. You can follow UX best practices until the cows come home, but if you don’t personify the brand you’re not going to engage users. This is where we can harness Archetypal Psychology for a competitive advantage in UX/UI design!

Let me walk you through a client example to demonstrate what I mean.

Take a look at this company’s Instagram feed and describe your initial impressions about the brand:

Words like: lively, caring, family oriented, colorful, or innocent might come to mind.

Fantastic.

Now take a look at this company’s website and ask yourself if the experience feels aligned. Do those same words still come to mind?

Meeeeh, not quite. Sure, there are some UX updates we could make (and don’t worry, we did), but what’s really missing is that spunk that all of the brand content communicated via Instagram. If you had arrived at this page through organic search — you might not be encouraged to browse further. Alternatively, if you had arrived here via paid social — you might be confused by the incongruity between the ad and the website, causing you to bounce.

Alright. Now check out our updated design, and ask yourself your initial impression of the brand once more.

Design by Flo Katzenbach

Better?? 😀

By taking point from the Caregiver archetype we included elements that spoke to the users limbic brain. Cute, chubby baby faces are the first thing users see. We brought lifestyle imagery with movement into the product grid for some added energy. Product shots are styled on brightly colored backgrounds rather than drab grey. Overall, you get a sense of playful innocence. We also added copy to the collection description that would speak directly to a caregiver audience. The subhead reads “the perfect blend of functionality, quality and keepsake”. This language strikes a sentimental chord with caregivers. It also promises them quality so they can be the hero in their own story and succeed at caring for their little ones.

Now that the the website has been elevated to match the execution of brand on other touch-points, users can grab onto something more holistic and meaningful.

Archetypal Psychology is your friend, and it’s time you embraced it.

I hope this read has been helpful and will inspire you to shake up your design process. Let me know your thoughts below!