If they get it right, then it’s right. Right?

My first job out of college was doing human factors research at the research labs for a large telephone company. It was a very cool job for a new graduate. I had a great boss, a fun officemate I am still close with, and I could make all the long distance calls I wanted for free – it was the telephone company after all.

My job was to schedule and run participants (we called them “subjects” back then) through stimuli presented on a screen. They would talk aloud, and a program would present them with situations to work through and measure their outcomes. I think we would have called it UI research, but I don’t remember that language being around back them – I think we referred to it as information processing.

Either way, it was fun. And it stuck with me.

And the question that stuck with me the most, and still challenges me, is that while we can use human factors methods to get people through a process or journey “correctly” (like install a computer, or check-out online), how can we get them to do it in a branded way? And by that I mean, do it “right” while also delivering the desired emotional attributes we want the brand to convey. Like, make it feel “technical”, or “easy”. Or deliver a feeling of “trust” and “reliability”. And maybe communicate something as nebulous as “engaging” or “agile”, or dare I say “disruptive”.

It seems that these brand personality characteristics can get easily omitted from human factors research. Often, they are not considered going into the process – set aside to focus more on getting participants through the task at hand without error. Sometimes it is brought up at the very end when there is little time left (“Now, what kind of company is this?”) And other times, it seems, personality cues can even get summarily cut if a participant comments on them during the process (e.g., “Why is there a sun on there?” or “It says, enjoy, why does it say that?”).

Now, I am not saying that personality attributes should be the main driver of a user experience – I mean if they can’t get through it, they can’t get through it. Or if a sun is getting in the way, then it’s definitely not communicating anything you want to communicate (unless you want to be known as the brand who, “puts things in the way.”). But in this day and age, when brand experiences matter more than ever, and we need to use every touchpoint to cut through to our-time starved information-saturated audiences, it is critical to identify the personality cues that make an experience a branded experience.

After all, what do we want people to take away after they have completed that install, activated that credit card, or purchased that flight? “Hey, I got through it.” or “I finished it?” Getting them through it without error or friction seems to be table stakes. Providing a relevant experience that motivates, and is memorable, or even remarkable should be the new criteria. Emotional connections are much richer and lasting – and much more important for enduring brand preferences. Maybe it’s time we take a fresh look at the importance of emotion in human factors research. After all, aren’t emotions a human factor?