Can You Really Convey Luxury Through Digital Product Design?
Clients often ask for their digital products to look and feel luxurious. But when rendered on the same screens and downloaded from the same digital distribution services, is this really possible?Image courtesy of Gleb Kuznetsov, a designer who creates very slick user interfaces.Introduction This thought arose a few months ago during my final year at university, when working on a live brief set by a large private bank. The project required us to ‘disrupt’ the sub-sector by proposing a new mobile app that high-net-worth individuals could use to monitor and control their wealth. Part of the requirements for this brief were to make it a ‘luxury’ product, though early research into the physical experience that private banks used to provide, soon led me to wonder what a truly premium digital experience might look and feel like — and if with current technology, it was even possible to match those standards. Fast-forward to joining Inktrap, I saw that some of our clients were asking for similar products, which led me to really wonder; how can the traditional concept of luxury be conveyed digitally and is this even possible? A bespoke HSBC Private Bank lounge designed by the Campana Brothers back in 2008. Image courtesy of Dezeen.The landscape is very different now Over the past decade, regular mobile applications have essentially replaced many standard physical experiences (eg. booking a hotel room), but now these applications are even replacing experiences that companies used to invest enormous amounts of time and money on; luxury physical experiences. Private banks, for example, used to consider every element of their lobbies — from the smell of each room to the texture of each piece of furniture — usually commissioning world-class craftspeople to manufacture them. Now though, in order to retain a millennial and Gen Z customer base, they will need to go almost entirely digital. Mobile apps are developed using the same technologies and rendered on the same (or very similar) screens — good quality user interfaces are almost entirely ubiquitous now, as the biggest and most innovative tech companies generally target the masses, not just the mega-wealthy. Airbnb’s UI is clean, elegant and evidently had a lot of time and money invested in it. A luxury interface, but made for the masses? Image courtesy of Airbnb Design. Previously, digital products expressed luxury using skeuomorphism through mirroring real-world expensive materials; like gold, silver and rich wood textures, as well as using elegant, awkward-to-read serif typefaces. Following the advent of flat design, this now comes across as extremely tacky and is a fast way of making a product look dated, and almost dishonest in terms of its quality. Most attempts at designing “luxury” digital experiences normally end up looking more like this. Image courtesy of (and no offence intended) Casino News Daily. Even if a piece of designer fashion is manufactured using the same materials as a cheaper high street alternative, the place that one would go to buy it would likely be drastically different, and certainly feel like more of a luxury experience. But even luxury mobile applications are downloaded using the same digital distribution services. The process of downloading and using an app was purposefully designed to be this democratic, so it may take some time before patterns emerge for more luxury and bespoke digital experiences. The Google Play store (left), a general distribution centre for digital products and Harrods (right), an example of a luxury, traditional department store. Images courtesy of Google Developers Blog and Graff.So, what can luxury brands do to keep up, and are they even trying? Perhaps this is an area that…
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