"When you do the sort of work I do, it's not physical." Don Norman, now the Director of The Design Lab at University of California, said to me. "Traditional designers don't consider me a designer, in part because I'm not making beautiful objects. For example, the most important part of Uber's UX has nothing to do with what's on the screen, it's the convenience of not having to pay your driver. You'll never find that work exhibited in a museum."
Norman became a household design name after coining term "User Experience (UX)" when he joined Apple in 1993. Now, and to many, he is the face of invisible design.
When you think of design, you probably imagine finely crafted objects that you can hold in your hand, or maybe an iconic logo or poster. You think about something's visual representation. But today, design embodies much more than that.
The Rising Demand of Multi-Sensory Experiences
A J. Walter Thomas intelligence study on the impact of experience found that 73 percent of Millennials crave multi-sensory experiences. Whereas 79 percent of all those surveyed Gen Z, Millennials, Baby Boomers and everyone in between stated they valued sensory experiences over tangible objects.
With today's consumer landscape putting so much value on experience, designers are forced to think beyond the artboard or screen.
Modern Branding Extends Into the Senses
In late 2017, Visa launched a signature sound, unique vibration and logo animations to its swipes.
According to Chris Curtin, Chief Brand & Innovation Marketing Officer, Visa's branding efforts have extended into the auditory senses and haptic perceptions, all while maintaining the brand principles: security, reliability and speed.
"Visa is a brand that's been developed and defined for close to five decades. We wanted to take the core tenants of what Visa stood for and bring it to life in the digital space." Curtin told me early last year.
Curtin and his team of designers and researchers spent a year developing the chime. A long, harsh, repetitive sound could make the purchase process seem slow, tiresome and difficult. A short tone, on the other hand, would signal the opposite.
By limiting the tone to under a second, the brand was able to embody the ephemeral quality of the transaction processing itself, enabling customers to walk away from the transaction feeling that the experience reflected the attributes they ascribed to the brand.
"Sonic" Design is Gaining Popularity
Visa isn't the only brand in its category to spend an absurd amount of time developing a sound. Just one month after Mastercard refreshed its logo, it released its "sonic brand," a project the reportedly took 18 months.
If anything, it's only more evidence of the increasing demand on the designer repertoire; giving rise to new skillsets and specialized firms.
In developing a sound that would resonate with a global audience, Mastercard worked with agencies, artists and musicians around the world, including Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda--a combination of perspectives of which designers should take note.
The Power of Non-Visual Branding
The rise of multi-sensory design is a great indication of a new, unsaturated space to capture attention naturally, and more importantly, in a less intrusive way.
Great sonic branding tells an audience who you are and what you stand for. And for now, it's one of the few ways to experience a brand without having to look down at your phone.