Design as Brand Expression

What guides your design choices? Can you explain how the choices build value for your client’s brand? I think every designer should be able to. To me, good design is the expression of a clients’ brand that improves the business and the experience for the people interfacing with brand/design.

The Brand should be the common language between designer and client. Because, in the end, it’s the brand that absorbs the impact of the choices being made, especially when you’re designing experiences for mobile and web–the designed experience IS the product, which is the ultimate expression of the brand you’re building.

Before I ever draw a single pixel or drag my pencil across the paper of my sketchbook. I want need a sense of what the brand stands for: What does this brand mean to the team or company I’m working for? What does it mean to the end-users interacting with the experiences I’m designing? This is why I love working with start-ups or teams working on special projects because the passion is so potent, that sense of meaning comes very quickly.

The other important element, which is sometimes a little tougher to unearth, is the brand’s purpose. What is the brand’s core value to their customers? Where is the brand’s place in the market? What is its place in the world? It’s commonplace these questions can’t always be answered definitively, especially for really early stage start-ups. But, here’s what I’ve discovered about this: purpose often reveals itself through an iterative process of executing a brand’s meaning. In other words, being guided by meaning will lead you to purpose.

The third element is the constraints and objectives of the project at hand.  It’s the translation of these objectives and constraints into a designed experience that is the platform for the brand expression we’re talking about.

With these guiding elements in place, we have purpose, we have meaning and we have specific context in which we can make wise design choices about how to express our clients’ brand. This perspective also provides context to discuss how we make the business better and challenge clients on assumed notions and loosely formed ideas.

I welcome any experience or wisdom around this. Please share in the comments.

“Beauty without expression is boring.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson


Social TV Players: IntoNow

Social TV Players is a series of posts about the most interesting Social TV apps and my perspectives and experiences with them.

IntoNow: The Gorilla in the Social TV Room

Yahoo! owned IntoNow is a TV check-in app powered by patent-pending audio fingerprinting technology–a technology you’re going to see in a lot of Social TV apps. IntoNow offers information about shows you’re checked into, including information and content related to the specific episode you’re watching. It also presents genre specific content. For example, IntoNow takes advantage of the vast resources at Yahoo! to present real-time sports stats, scores and play-by-plays. During the Oscars this year, they even displayed all the award categories and their winners as they happened.

Checking into a TV show with IntoNow is a very neat experience. You just open the app and press the big, green button and your device begins to listen to what you’re watching and a few seconds later you’re checked in and presented with a description of the program you’re watching, the cast members, links to related IMDb and Wikipedia entries, and a Twitter backchannel tuned to the hashtag and celebrities from the program.

At this point, IntoNow doesn’t really offer much more than the the magic of their check-in and a nicely executed app. IntoNow half-assly provides a discussion mechanism, it’s hardly a rewarding experience to actually discuss things, apparent by the fact there is usually no discussion actually happening. IntoNow’s founder Adam Cahan did hint at the Social TV Summit in San Francisco this past March that we are going to see their app engage people around their interests (the TV shows they’re watching) in the next 6-8 months.

From where I’m standing, IntoNow knows they’re the app to beat in Social TV, at the moment. The opportunity for them to be the preferred social tv app is theirs to lose, in large part to the magical experience of their app and the fact that Yahoo! is behind them, placing big bets in next generation TV technology.

Yahoo!’s connected TV software powers many of the smart TVs on the market today. It’s looking like Yahoo! is trying to pull a living room ecosystem together via software. (Definitely more on this later.)

So, yeah. IntoNow is the gorilla in Social TV room… for now.

IntoNow is available on the iTunes App Store for iPhone and iPad, and on Google Play for Android devices.

Why I’m betting on Social TV

I have the blessing of being a super geeky millennial. Seriously. It’s such a gift seeing the world around me change so drastically, so quickly, while being a part of it all from a such a young age.

Since then, I’ve devoured and witnessed every piece of the Internet culture I could wrap my mind around. I witnessed the birth of ecommerce, video sharing, social networking, digital music. So, naturally, being a child of Gen Y, I’ve developed a sense tuned into the ebb and flow of these trends and movements that happen so frequently. And, right now, my radar is really picking up on Social TV. Here’s why…

People have always had love affairs with the TV shows they watch. This isn’t a big surprise to anyone. I mean, you should have seen my friend Kristi watching the season finale of The Walking Dead a few weeks ago. TV shows are an escape from reality, in which we emotionally submerge ourselves.

People have immersed their lives in social networking. This probably doesn’t come as a big surprise, either. But, here’s what IS surprising: Facebook, according to papers filed in February with the SEC in preparation for their IPO, stated they had 845 million monthly active users. With updated papers filed last week, Mark Zuckerberg and Co. shared that number has risen 16 million to a whopping 901 million active users. Analysts are predicting they’ll hit 1 billion users by the end of 2012. That means 1 in 7 people on the entire planet has a Facebook profile. Incredible.

Twitter shared recently they have about 500 million users registered, but only see 145 million monthly active users. Not Facebook impressive, but still… Impressive.

The bottom line: We’re playing our lives out online. Our passions. Our thoughts. Our disappointments. And, what we’re watching on TV… while we are actually watching it… in a really big way, because of the…

The radical emergence of the second screen. The second screen is any device–laptop, tablet, smartphone–you are using while you watch a TV show (live or DVR’d), especially if you’re using that device to interact with or look up information about what you’re watching.

The penetration of this trend is pretty remarkable. According to a Nielsen report about global second screen use, nearly 90% of tablet and smartphone users have used their device while tuning into TV shows. 45% of those people do so on a daily basis–splitting their time between checking email, checking IMDb and Wikipedia for info about what they’re watching, finding information about the promotions and advertising they’re seeing and, of course, social networking their butts off.

The second screen has opened up a whole new world of possibility to do some really neat things.


People, at a critical scale, are fanatical about the TV shows they watch, to the tune of 35 hours per week on average for the typical American. People, at a critical scale, are spending nearly 16 hours a month on Facebook alone. And, now, thanks to the second screen movement, people have a convenient time and place to play all this out… On the couch. In front of the TV.

What I and many others (including the TV networks) are doing right now is figuring out how we tie people closer with what is happening on their TV via the second screen to create deeper, longer lasting experiences.

And, frankly, the fact that my mom AND my grandma have a Kindle Fire they use in front of the TV doing the things everyone else is doing (email, Facebook, IMDb) is enough evidence for me that something is about to pop off in a big way around Social TV. I can’t say if 2012 will the year of Social TV, but it will certainly be an exciting year of innovation and user engagement in the space.


The First Post

I witnessed an interesting internal dialogue between my brain and I last week. It went a little like this…

My Brain: Hey Joel, we need start a blog.

Me: Whaaaat? No one wants to hear what we have to say. I’d just be just another dude pontificating about overly subscribed to topics.

My Brain was all like: Oh quit being a weenie. Who cares if no one wants to read your precious little blog posts!?

Then, I said: I’m not a weenie! :\

Mr. Know it all, said:  Ugh. *facepalm* The fact is, it’s getting crammed up here and I need a place to put these thoughts and feelings about our work. We need some feedback on these thoughts, too, so we can move them out or develop on them. There’s so much more awesome stuff to think about!

Me: You make a good point. Things have been particularly exciting the past couple years with the incredible people I’ve met, the awesome projects I’ve worked on and all this exciting social TV stuff!

My Brain: See! You do get it!

Me: So, what should our first post be about…?