Do you remember the first impressions you had of a bank? Probably it has something to do with an impressive physical building. When was the last time you were in a physical bank building?
When I grew up the bank building was the most impressive in the town, next to the church. Banks were literally pillars of society. Their physical architectures communicated power, prestige, permanence, security; a premier brand.
I saw a comic strip a while back of a bunch of young people driving down a street. One looks out the window, and on seeing a bank building, comments: “Seems like they’ve built a bank out of the app.”
Our impressions and experiences of brands today are increasingly digital. I talked to a nurse this morning who is doing a Master’s at university. When I told her what I worked at she sheepishly admitted that she “knew nothing about computers.” This woman is a tremendous professional. She’s from a slightly older generation that tends to feel that if they can’t use computer stuff it’s because they’re a bit stupid.
“I can’t find anything on the university system,” she said. “I dread logging into it.”
“It’s not you,” I assured her. “These systems are absolutely appallingly designed. They’re a total disgrace.”
“So, it’s not just me,” she replied, looking relieved.
A while back I came across a university where the digital team was working hard to create a simpler navigation. All of a sudden, the homepage was hijacked by senior management and huge ads were placed on it for the university’s “Building Fund.” In order to raise funds for their new physical building with its wonderful touted architecture, they were willing to destroy the digital information architecture.
When I think about my bank today I don’t think about its physical buildings or its people. I think about the hassle I constantly have with Java every time I visit its site, how the navigation is not simple enough, and how if I have to ring support I can be waiting 10-15 minutes for someone to answer, as some disembodied voice tells me how much the bank cares about me.
I used to be a little awed when I walked into a bank. These were impressive places. Their digital equivalents do not impress. This is partly to do with the fact that what impresses in digital is often the opposite of what impresses in physical. It’s not about ornate stonework and polished wooden panels. It’s much more about speed, simplicity and reliability.
Physical is built with stone, wood and glass. The most essential building blocks of digital are words. Information and technical architecture is judged by its speed and ease of use. A great website has the least possible number of carefully chosen words with minimal, lean graphics designed for speed. It is like a fast elevator that gets you to where you want to go quickly and smoothly.
In the world of digital it is the digital architecture interface that creates the first and lasting impressions. Organizations need to take as much care of their digital buildings as they used to take of their physical buildings.