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All this talk of user experience is not a broken record

Just about every article I read these days on branding, marketing, technology and sales talks at some point about the increasing importance of the user experience – the need to bring brands and products ever closer to customers by making the whole journey as personal, personalised and positive as possible.

However, there is an irony that today, in an advanced digital economy, brands are spending millions and falling over each other to, well, effectively give customers back many of the experiences we had when life was arguably a little slower and analogue. And, as people and as customers, we want it, crave it and embrace it.

In my mind, nowhere is this better exemplified than in the humble vinyl record. Long written off as an icon of bygone era, vinyl has been making somewhat of a comeback over recent years, the extent of which was confirmed last week when it was reported that record sales had over overtaken digital downloads for the first time.  There are no doubt a multitude of complex sociological and cultural reasons why vinyl has had a resurgence of sorts of late; but I believe that the tangible and truly personal experience a record offers the user is also a key part of this. And it’s something its digital equivalent just can’t replicate.

I was an avid collector of vinyl as a teenager in the ‘80s. I spent hours after school (and sometimes during it) getting lost in a record store, thumbing through the racks of records, hoping to find a gem and patience often rewarded me. Then I’d get home, take the record from the sleeve and play it while I explored every inch of the cover and insert sleeve, looking at all the images and cover design, reading the lyrics, looking at who played on each of the tracks and so on. It was such a great experience each time. I was totally immersed in the moment. In those days, it was ‘just what you did’ to find and enjoy your records. These days, it’s called ‘a user experience’.

My record collection was tucked away in a garage until around four years ago when I was given a turntable and a couple of records for Christmas. I set up the turntable, played the records, studied the sleeves and almost immediately, my latent love of records, long ignored for the convenience of digital downloads, was back.

I’m not a luddite and certainly not suggesting for a moment that we need to move wholesale back to a purely analogue world. I’ve built much of my career in recent years as a digital comms specialist.  I just can’t help but see the irony that much of this technology, which has done so much for us and tries to bring us closer together through social networks and enhancing the user experience through personalised marketing and tailored products, has, when you strip all the gloss away, struggled to sometimes give us access to what we still need…a truly personal, intimate user experience.

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