Design systems, brand identity and guidelines -- any way you paint it, it's vital for brands to have a base of elements that all products are built upon. This can include everything from logos to your color palette to the voice of the brand. By having this central set of principles, teams are empowered to create efficiently together. These guidelines should embrace flexibility over rigidity; by championing change, brands have room to grow in our ever-evolving world.

Empower creatives with the WHY

These design tools are integral to ensuring every time your consumer interacts with your brand it looks and feels cohesive -- even better if there's a layer of personalization that makes them feel like your brand truly gets them. However, this should not be a stopping point. Understanding where your audience is coming from and what they're looking to achieve should always be considered.

Creatives can work smarter by understanding the foundation behind these brand standards and design systems: their target audience. By bringing into account the user's digital ecosystem and mindset, teams can craft a more usable and consistent experience -- no matter how the consumer is coming into contact with their brand. For instance, looking across the vertical for benchmarking no longer feels sufficient. While a grocer may think their competition is the other one across town, it's also the third-party delivery app, the big box retailer with seamless curbside pickup and simple sign-up they experienced on social media too. Every interaction, a user picks up on what is seamless, and that becomes a benchmark in their mindset. Experiences that at one time seemed slightly cumbersome start to feel like an obstacle course when the rest of the digital world gets more seamless around them.

By taking their audience into account, designers can build out a more consistent and usable brand experience. If the key user demographic is also in the largest growing user base for a popular social media platform, taking inspiration from that experience will help the user feel empowered and knowledgeable in your interaction. Those small design details can feel minimal in the research phase but can be transformative for a designer.

Equipping designers with this knowledge and background helps push the consistency of these interactions beyond consistent colors, fonts and toner. For example, digital signage for specific counters in a grocery chain may need to rotate through quicker or slower, empathizing with the user in that exact moment. Their mindset in the bakery might be more exploratory, while in the deli it is more transactional. A menu will need to be active for a longer period of time, while a short video about a loyalty program can be faster and full of motion.

The customer experience is a multifaceted journey, one that is shaped by technology, data, research and, above all else, functional creativity. With the growing emphasis on human-centered design as a tool for acquiring and retaining your best customers, leaders are well-served by considering visual best practices as a contributing factor in their business outcomes. It isn't just about the toolbox of design elements, it is about meeting your audience where they are -- with every interaction and your revenue in mind.