I’ve worked on many projects for clients who came with pre-established style and interactivity guidelines for how their brand should be presented online. In building multi-device sites for these clients, these guidelines have posed interesting, sometimes unrealistic expectations to live up to (at least, if attempting to follow them consistently across several devices). Many browsers simply aren’t capable of rendering design details at a level of fidelity that may be considered “on-brand,” or say, of utilizing reliable fixed-position toolbars, responsive touch gestures, and luxurious momentum-based scrolling animations. Attempts to force unnatural presentation and behavior into a given device’s experience often lead to ugly workarounds that cost users in time and bandwidth, and that can certainly have a negative impact on how a company is perceived as well. The variety of devices accessing our sites can and should lead to discussions about the many acceptable ways in which a service can be presented to users, and hopefully lead to a more fluid definition of how a brand should present itself in general.
I’m not really sure what guidelines that consider these constraints would look like, though I suspect they could involve some degree of component-level grading. One thing I am pretty sure of though, is that having a fast, accessible, user-friendly site can reflect incredibly well on a company, and I’d love to see more guidelines and expectations that prioritize these aspects of a service as branding requirements in addition to the usual visual details. Perhaps a user interface that pairs appropriately with a device’s own features and constraints reflects better on a company than one that painstakingly conforms to that company’s aesthetic ideals. I tend to think that’s the case, at least. To that end, I’ve made an effort to avoid using terms like “degraded” when comparing the ways a user interface may manifest itself on a particular device and instead focus on whether the interface feels appropriate and at-home on that device. After all, from a customer service perspective, “meeting our users wherever they are” may be more “on-brand” than anything a style guide can hope to suggest.