Brand and usability in content-intensive websites
Embargo Lift Date
Our connections to the digital world are invoked by brands, but the intersection of branding and interaction design is still an under-investigated area. Particularly, current websites are designed not only to support essential user tasks, but also to communicate an institution's intended brand values and traits. What we do not yet know, however, is which design factors affect which aspect of a brand. To demystify this issue, three sub-projects were conducted.
The first project developed a systematic approach for evaluating the branding effectiveness of content-intensive websites (BREW). BREW gauges users' brand perceptions on four well-known branding constructs: brand as product, brand as organization, user image, and brand as person. It also provides rich guidelines for eBranding researchers in regard to planning and executing a user study and making improvement recommendations based on the study results.
The second project offered a standardized perceived usability questionnaire entitled DEEP (design-oriented evaluation of perceived web usability). DEEP captures the perceived website usability on five design-oriented dimensions: content, information architecture, navigation, layout consistency, and visual guidance. While existing questionnaires assess more holistic concepts, such as ease-of-use and learnability, DEEP can more transparently reveal where the problem actually lies. Moreover, DEEP suggests that the two most critical and reliable usability dimensions are interface consistency and visual guidance.
Capitalizing on the BREW approach and the findings from DEEP, a controlled experiment (N=261) was conducted by manipulating interface consistency and visual guidance of an anonymized university website to see how these variables may affect the university's image. Unexpectedly, consistency did not significantly predict brand image, while the effect of visual guidance on brand perception showed a remarkable gender difference. When visual guidance was significantly worsened, females became much less satisfied with the university in terms of brand as product (e.g., teaching and research quality) and user image (e.g., students' characteristics). In contrast, males' perceptions of the university's brand image stayed the same in most circumstances. The reason for this gender difference was revealed through a further path analysis and a follow-up interview, which inspired new research directions to unpack even more the nexus between branding and interaction design.