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Last updated on 4/29/20

Define your Brand Personality

In today's technology-reliant world, it's important to consider how products and interactions can feel more human and less digital. Every brand has its own personality, which can shape everything from business model to design. This should inform the decisions you make as a UX designer.

Design personas

Aarron Walter was the head of UX design at MailChimp when he wrote the book Designing For Emotion  (he's currently the VP of Design Education at InVision). MailChimp is one of the best examples of a company that is able to let its personality shine through an excellent email newsletter service. In his book, Aarron Walter shares what he calls design personas. Rather than typical UX personas, design personas focus on the business or organization.

Like all personas, having established these guides helps inform choices the company makes.

Design personas include:

  • An overview of the brand personality. For this, you can ask questions like, "If your brand was a person, who would it be?" Or "Who would be your brand's celebrity spokesperson?" You can also think of it in relationship to competitors.

  • 5-7 brand traits, which also include a trait you want to avoid.  For MailChimp an example is "fun, but not childish."

  • A personality map that shows where on a spectrum the brand falls. This can be considered in terms of how friendly/unfriendly, or dominant/submissive the personality is.

  • A voice and tone guide that addresses how the brand would sound if it could talk, including specific examples, and how it may change in different situations. 

  • The visual lexicon of color, typography, and general visual style, along with an explanation of the choices.

  • Emotional engagement methods used in the interface. This could be anything from personalized greetings to rewards that help make the brand more memorable.

Aarron Walter discusses designing emotional experiences at the Delight Conference. [50:43 min] Jump to 40:54 to hear him talk about design personas.

Brand personality

Certain industries lend themselves to certain types of personality traits. However, just because someone has a mental model of how something should be done, doesn't mean there aren't companies to help shake things up. Disruption happens all the time in the start-up world.

Take the popular language learning app, Duolingo. The experience they've created to help people learn languages is very different from how I was taught foreign languages in school. They've also created a methodology to help language stick. They're not afraid to have some fun with the brand either. (You can even learn Klingon in as little as 5 minutes a day!)

Screenshot of Duolingo Klingon offering.
You can learn Klingon on Duolingo. The illustrative style helps reflect their fun approach to learning. 

Online banking is a different kind of business. It's incredibly important that banks and other entities in the financial realm gain trust with their users. This is even more important if it's a start-up. You're less likely to encounter humor on a bank website, but it can work in the right context. The question is: What is the personality of your brand and how can it be used to connect with users?

Screenshot of Mint.com homepage. Copy reads
Consider how financial management service Mint.com was able to build rapport with users who would need to share their banking information to use the platform. The copy on the website is somewhat playful, which is not typical of most banks.

Keep design personas in mind as you get ready for the next course on user interface design. The elements of personality and style will help inform the visual language. In the meantime, look critically at your favorite sites and brands to try to understand the choices they've made to define their brand.

Let's recap!

  • Every brand has a personality, which is a good way to stand out from the competition.

  • Brand personas are useful for informing choices around product voice and vision. You know who you are and who you are not.

  • Look to other industries for inspiration. Inspiration can come in unlikely places.

  • Keep the brand personality in mind when making decisions around user interface and content strategy (which we'll explore more in other courses!).

We've covered A LOT in this course. Don't be overwhelmed. Having a solid base around psychology will serve you well in your future projects. Every principle, effect, or idea does not need to be implemented into everything you do. Think critically about your project goals, test out ideas, and have fun! In the meantime, keep collecting ideas and inspiration you discover along the way!

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