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?

James Hanks

Image courtesy of Gleb Kuznetsov, a designer who creates very slick user interfaces.


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 immersive technologies could innovate, given the amount of skill and effort required to develop successful examples, as well as the resulting impact of the experience on the user.

Unfortunately, most immersive technologies at the moment are used for marketing gimmicks — apologies, “brand experiences” — and rarely present a decent enough use case to make the clunky hardware and lengthy setup process worth it. Until the user flow for immersive technology is as simple and hardware as ubiquitous as mobile devices are now, I cannot see it as being used to create worthwhile luxury digital products.

Dior even created their own VR headset back in 2015, perhaps anticipating that this would be what would give luxury brands their power back. I haven’t heard much about it since, have you? Image courtesy of LVMH.

The value of intangible assets has continued to increase over time, with the digital revolution only spearheading this exponentially. If luxury brands continue to essentially offer the same service and product quality as their cheaper counterparts — will they be able to survive?

It might seem so by just selling an overpriced brand name alone, but in a truly post-digital world, will this still stand or will they be forced to reach another level of luxury? I think we’ll see a shift in how luxury brands attempt to retain their image.

Let’s think about what this shift might involve

Whilst the digital revolution has seemingly made good-quality design available to all at a very low cost; genuine, multidisciplinary craft still stands out above the rest, is rare and therefore valuable.

In order for a digital product to become luxury, it will need to be created by craftspeople applying these skills, as well as retain the good quality and practical UX design found in products like Airbnb. Luxury digital products will have an extra level of quality that is unnecessary, but delightful.

An example of this, is the Google Cloud Infrastructure 3D experience, built by Hello Monday*. It is a beautifully crafted website that combines the crisp Google Material Design language with a bespoke, rich 3D experience that is totally unnecessary, but thoroughly engaging and delightful to use nonetheless. It even makes use of subtle audio, which is rarely encountered online since Flash’s demise. Whilst it can technically be viewed by anyone, a lot of computers (such as my laptop) struggle to view it smoothly because it is so data intensive. Google generally targets the masses and avoids excessive and luxury design patterns, but this website certainly does not — its sole purpose is to showcase Google Cloud’s power and influence in the face of other tech giants.

The Google Cloud Infrastructure 3D experience. Image courtesy of Hello Monday.

Of course, due to technology’s rapid rate of change, even luxury products such as this will eventually become easy to replicate at a much lower cost (in terms of craft, time and money). I’m sure there are countless libraries being written right now that will start to make these experiences easy to create, but by then a new level of luxury digital craft will have emerged.

At the moment, luxury brands do not appear to be thinking too much about how they can meaningfully bring their luxury into the digital age. They either appear to offer the same quality design as economy competition (or even worse in the case of Monzo and HSBC Private Bank’s app) or, as outlined previously, jump too far into the future and experiment with gimmicky technology that serves no purpose other than to make them appear innovative and get a few shares on social media.

I think I know which one I’d go for. Image courtesy of the App Store.

Fortunately for luxury brands, at the moment they are still able to remain profitable despite this, giving them time to work out how they can start to effectively bring their brands, products and services into the digital age. The clock is ticking though, and I’m curious to see what happens next.

*Hello Monday documented their process of making the Google Cloud Infrastructure 3D experience, which can be found here. It’s a great, informative read for designers and technologists!


Design types are notorious for wearing black (guilty as charged) and they aren’t alone: Black was the most popular color in womenswear in 2017, taking up 36% of the market according to the retail technology company Edited. The popularity of dark hues has even crossed the boundaries of fashion and made its way into UX and UI design, with a slew of popular apps and programs introducing “dark mode” options that reverse the reigning color scheme of the web.

Examples the Material Design guide for dark themes. [Image: Google]

Of course, a dark background with light text is nothing new. The rise of WYSIWYG (an acronym for “what you see is what you get”; pronounced “wiziwig”) word processors in the 1980s first introduced user interfaces that looked similar to the black-text-on-white-paper that users were used to. Prior to that, the earliest computers had monochrome cathode-ray tube monitors, which featured blocky green text on a black background. Adobe Creative Suite has been using a dark interface for years, and Spotify’s interface has utilized the light-on-dark color scheme for some time now (though it was overhauled in 2015).

Dark interfaces have been around for a long time, but they’ve become wildly popular with users over the past few years. There’s been a proliferation of consumer-facing dark mode options in the past year alone, including in MacOS, Apple iOS, and Android, as well as across apps and platforms. Instagram debuted its dark mode in early October; the Gmail app introduced dark mode this week.

What’s driving the web’s recent obsession with dark mode? In speaking anecdotally with friends about why they switched to dark mode, a lot of what I heard was that it’s easier on the eyes—i.e., they found the dark background to be less harsh than the bright white background when looking at their phones at night. But while a dimmer interface might seem better for the eyes (and really does save battery), it’s not actually better for legibility.

Apple’s Human Interface Design guidelines for iOS Dark Mode. [Image: Apple]

I asked Raluca Budiu, director of research at Nielsen Norman Group, a UX and UI consulting firm, what she made of the perception that dark mode is easier on the eyes. “In usability, we have a rule that says ‘don’t listen to users.’ It simply means to watch people do things (and measure them) instead of believing what they say they do.”

While Budiu qualified that the firm hasn’t conducted its own research on the usability of dark mode, she says they generally don’t recommend dark mode for “normal vision users,” and says positive contrast polarity, aka good old black-on-white text, is “easier to read and more glanceable,” especially in low light conditions.

Published research in ergonomics seems to back this up. A 2017 study in the journal Applied Ergonomics found that “dark characters on light background lead to better legibility and are strongly recommended independent of observer’s age.” And Human Factors: The Journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society found in 2013 that “the typically higher luminance of positive polarity displays leads to an improved perception of detail.”

[Image: Apple]

For people with visual disabilities, there is less of a consensus. According to Budiu, several early studies showed that people with “certain types of impairments (e.g., cataract) do better with dark mode,” with some users with visual disability reporting that preference. But even there, Budiu says, “I think there is not a 100% consensus.”

For this reason, when it comes to dark mode, Budiu still recommends defaulting to the old reliable black-on-white when you have a lot of reading to do. But if you really don’t want to give up on dark mode, there are a few tips you can use to combat decreased legibility. Apple suggests testing your content by turning on “Increase Contrast and Reduce Transparency” in your iPhone’s settings “both separately and together” while in dark mode.

There are some contexts where dark mode can be useful. According to Apple’s human interface guidelines, dark mode allows the “content to stand out while the surrounding UI recedes into the background.” So it does make sense that Adobe Creative Cloud utilizes a dark user interface: Its focus is on image editing, and the dark UI prioritizes the visual by minimizing the less-relevant textual elements.

For this same reason, dark mode works well when you want to encourage the reader to quickly scan stats and focus on key data points, like when looking at stocks, charts, or graphs. Likewise, a Salesforce study suggests that there may be some functional benefits when it comes to reading charts and graphics. After asking study participants to compare charts in both light and dark themes, and rank them by which would be “worth the least or most if they had to pay for each type,” the Salesforce team found that participants made decisions faster, and just as accurately, with the dark interface as compared to a light one. Interestingly, that ran counter to participant’s impressions of the interfaces, as they had a better first impression and associated higher value with the light themes.

The bottom line is, whether or not you choose to go dark should be based on your personal aesthetic preference, because in regard to usability and legibility, dark mode isn’t actually better. Rather, it may be more indicative of a “bigger minimalism trend,” as Budiu puts it, or simply the increasing personalization of user interfaces overall. So yes, you can have the Wednesday Adams aesthetic on your phone interface too. But at this point, it seems to be just that—about the looks.


We wouldn’t exactly call it an unbiased source. 99designs is a huge freelance design portal, with a core business model that generates roughly $60 million a year through designers logging in and taking jobs through the site. Even still, a new report from the company offers what looks to be an unprecedented view of a large swath of the freelance design industry. It surveyed 10,000 designers across 42 countries, 84% of whom have an account on at least one online freelance platform (the survey was hosted primarily on 99designs).

We looked through an advance copy of the report to spot the trends. What we found paints a picture of freelance designers as a potentially overeducated group that treats freelance as a full-time job, just worked during odd hours.

Most freelance designers are dudes . . . but not in the U.S.

Sixty-eight percent of freelancers surveyed worldwide identify as male. That’s a clear majority, which is perhaps not all that surprising. Then again, attempts to quantify gender in design can be opaque. If you look at the data for North America, however, women actually represent a slight majority, of 51.33%.

Designers are educated, but perhaps too educated

Forty percent of freelance designers have a college degree in a design-oriented field. Nine percent have an advanced degree. But here’s the big catch: Only 15% of respondents said that a formal design education was necessary to their career. Fifteen percent! That’s nothing! Most thought education was either unimportant, or didn’t have an opinion one way or the other (though if you’re saying you don’t know if college matters to a job or not, that seems like an opinion unto itself).

A vast majority of freelancers hone their craft on YouTube

99designs believes one reason there is so much ambivalence toward higher education is that 42% of designers reported being self-taught in some way or another. A vast majority—74% of all respondents—said they’d learned skills by watching YouTube. It makes sense, since YouTube offers so many clear demonstrations on how to pull off tricks in Photoshop and other popular software. A third take online classes. And a mere 18% of people do ongoing in-person training.

A lot of freelance designers are working parents

Thirty-one percent of designers are parents with a dependent under the age of 18. More than half of those designers, or roughly 15-20% overall, are the primary caregiver in their household. That means nearly one in five or six freelance designers is staying home with their kids while designing on the side. Also related: twenty-one percent of the designers polled work with a spouse or domestic partner.

Most freelance designers are treating it as a job

The most surprising finding is that only 17% of freelance designers report doing it to earn more income on top of their day job in design. Most are working a ton of hours outside the normal 9-5 working hours, as if it’s a second job. But in fact, it appears to be their main job. I say that because nearly 40% of respondents report freelancing 41 or more hours a week. Another 35% of people were freelancing between 20 and 40 hours a week. That means only about a quarter of people are really all that casual about freelance design, putting in less than 20 hours a week. Freelance design does not appear to be a side hustle—just one done at off hours.

In any case, 42% of all respondents still report that they freelance for the flexibility and freedom, while 17% do it for the creative freedom. That sounds nice, but something tells me it also adds up to a whole lot of creative people who could use a 401(k) and health insurance.


I don’t buy in the theory of never taking more than a specified number of clicks ( 3 or 4) to get to any page in the app.

First of all, why do you think that this theory is plausible at all? Because someone said it to you or maybe you read about it in a famous UX book?

There is a concept in our society called – Absolutism. In absolutism, people take every idea as a solid fact. For example, if people read an article by NNG (Norman Nielsen Group) or by any other famous UX influencer, they will take it as an absolute fact.

And THIS IS A PROBLEM because a theory is not a fact.

You have to THINK like a scientist. Every scientist knows that EVERY single theory, either if it’s from chemistry, mathematics, physics, or user experience, it doesn’t matter, is ONLY correct under certain conditions and circumstances.

If the conditions or the circumstances CHANGE – the theory DOES NOT APPLY! You always have to make sure the conditions are right.

Secondly, going back to our usability concept. I think the answer lies deeper in the cognitive processes and subconscious principles of the human brain.

In pursuit of fewer clicks, products have become overloaded with information on any single screen. Basically, you’re increasing users’ cognitive load, and you’re taking them away from their task constantly, cognitively, and physically. It’s distracting!

For people to use your website, they first have to be motivated. And motivation evokes behavior. When something appears to be easier-to-use, it’s more motivating for a person, because your brain is a lazy piece of meat and it constantly searches for easy ways to process information.

When you expose people to a large number of elements on the screen to make them do fewer clicks, you ingrain a complexity into the customer’s mind. When something looks complicated, it’s demotivating.

Since we already know that motivation evokes behavior, demotivating experiences result in low user engagement and revenue loss for a company.


So, make your product experience right from the start.

Thank you for reading!

Hype Cycle for Digital Marketing and Advertising report, released this week, shows that Customer Data Platforms have the potential to transform how marketers run their technology ecosystems. But the research firm also noted that CDPs are heading toward the “Trough of Disillusionment” after passing the “Peak of Inflated Expectations,” meaning that marketers who were once excited about the software’s potential may end up being disappointed.

How do you avoid being one of those disappointed marketers? I’d suggest you consult a resource like our Martech Intelligence Report: Customer Data Platforms, a Marketer’s Guide. MarTech Today and Digital Marketing Depot are releasing the second edition today, and, in honor of the occasion, I’ll share a few important tips from this comprehensive report. But be sure to download it yourself for more, including a marketplace overview and tips on selecting a CDP as well as in-depth profiles of 25 leading CDP vendors.

Before you jump on the CDP bandwagon, ask yourself the following questions to ensure that you really need a CDP and that your organization is ready to take advantage of its benefits.

1. How do we currently manage customer data?

Fragmented pieces of customer data often reside in silos in marketing, sales, purchasing, customer support and other departments. Does your organization have a “network of record”? Do you know what customer data it includes? Is third-party anonymous data mixed in? How many systems are in your martech stack? And how does data get from one system to another? These are all areas where a CDP can help to standardize and streamline data storage and processing

2. How efficient are our marketing data processes?

Martech systems are supposed to improve data and campaign efficiency. But many times, disparate systems instead lead to data duplication, lack of standardization and an increase in time-consuming manual tasks. If you find yourself spending more time correcting data errors or de-duplicating contact records, and less time executing campaigns or evaluating campaign performance, it might be time to automate data integration.

3. How would a CDP address our business needs and what are our use cases for the technology?

Virtually all CDPs deliver several core capabilities around data management, but many also provide a wide range of data analytics and orchestration features that address diverse business goals. What would having a single view of your customers do for you? For example, do you want to reduce churn by targeting customers with more relevant offers? Or increase the profitability of customer acquisition efforts by creating more accurate lookalike audiences? Don’t invest in a CDP unless you’re certain that it can perform better than your current systems.

4. Is your organization ready for a CDP?

Do you have enough clarity on your use cases and customer journeys to enable you to choose the correct solution? How will centralizing your data and audience definition impact your organization? Are you confident that all of the teams that would need to be involved – from IT to marketing to customer service – are educated on the potential value of a CDP? Have you chosen early adopters within the organization that can provide proof points to other users?

5. What systems would we integrate through the CDP?

The martech stack is getting bigger and more complex for many organizations. Streamlining integration is a core benefit of implementing a CDP, which can normalize data for easier importing and exporting into other systems. As more brands engage in omnichannel marketing through martech apps — like DMPs, marketing automation systems, CRMs and call analytics platforms — creating a unified view of the customer has become critical to marketing success.

6. How will we define and then benchmark CDP success?

What key performance indicators (KPIs) do you want to measure, and what decisions will you make based on CDP implementation? For example, do you want to decrease data redundancy and track how that impacts the velocity of campaign execution? Or do you want to decrease the time your marketing staff spends on manually transferring data from one system to another? Set business goals in advance to be able to benchmark success later on.

7. Do we have management buy-in?

As with any major organizational investment, management support is essential to CDP success. Begin with small, short-term goals that demonstrate how the CDP is benefiting the business, either through cost savings or revenue gains. The key is to convince senior executives that having a single, unified view of the customer will add to the organization’s bottom line.

8. Do we need self-serve, full serve or something in between?

CDPs are built for marketing end-users. However, CDPs vary in the scope of their capabilities – and it is important to have some level of ongoing training to use them all. CDP vendors provide varying levels of onboarding, customer support and/or professional services. Make sure you understand what your marketing staff will need to know to effectively use the CDP, or if you lack internal resources, what type of managed services are available.

9. What is the total cost of ownership?

CDP vendors typically charge monthly license fees based on the number of data records, events (or customer actions) and applications integrated. There may be additional fees for onboarding, APIs/custom integrations or staff training. Make sure you know your business needs and data volume to understand the investment your organization will make.

About The Author

Pamela Parker is Senior Editor and Projects Manager at Third Door Media’s Content Studio, where she produces Martech Intelligence Reports and other in-depth content for digital marketers in conjunction with Search Engine Land, Marketing Land, MarTech Today and Digital Marketing Depot. Prior to taking on this role at TDM, she served as Content Manager and Executive Features Editor. Parker is a well-respected authority on digital marketing, having reported and written on the subject since its beginning. She’s a former managing editor of ClickZ and has also worked on the business side helping independent publishers monetize their sites at Federated Media Publishing.


Demand for expensive phones might be slowing, but consumerism as a whole continues. In the wake of our collective and unceasing desire for more, better, cheaper, Google is the latest company to stand up on a sustainability soapbox, announcing its intention to better the environmental impact of its “Made by Google” products. In a series of vague and easily met goals, the company wants to ensure that 100% of its hardware include recycled materials by 2022, with 100% of shipments being carbon neutral by next year.

Neither of these commitments aims too high, though Google isn’t too specific or verbose about the details. For example, when Google says that “100% of device orders shipping to and from Google customers will be carbon neutral by 2020,” Google doesn’t quite define what it means by “shipments” or if that claim extends beyond shipping/fulfillment to include the product itself.

When it comes to shipping, Google usually chooses FedEx to fulfill orders and RMAs here in the ‘states, and FedEx has some of its own environmental goals set for 2020, which could help Google with its desire for carbon-neutral deliveries. But essentially, any benefits in shipping/fulfillment (assuming that’s what Google means) would be a result of actions taken by shipping companies, not Google. Fast Company was told by Google that part of this improvement will come from a change in shipping methods earlier in the supply chain and separate from fulfillment (40% gains from using boats vs. planes), but Google could be a lot more clear in its own marketing, here.

Ensuring that 100% of all Made by Google products include recycled materials should be another walk in the easily-marketed park, since Google imposes no requirement for what sort of components or percentages need to be made of recycled materials. Google simply claims it will “maximize recycled content wherever possible,” but if it isn’t committing to any firm goals, that’s a pointless promise. “Possible” is such a flexible and weaselly word subject to interpretation and economic viability, it may as well not be a commitment.

According to Fast Company, an upcoming Google product will “reuse a third of a plastic bottle” in the fabric of its design, but Google itself hasn’t placed any firm numbers on its own claims or self-imposed requirements regarding any products.

Google’s final bulleted “commitment” is the vaguest of all. The list ends with: “And we will make technology that puts people first and expands access to the benefits of technology.” While it’s good that the company wants to reiterate how its products can genuinely improve lives through technology, it isn’t really committing to anything with that statement.

Earlier this year, Samsung actually committed itself to more defined and firm goals, opting only to use fiber materials certified by the Forest Stewardship Council in packaging and manuals, with specific numbers set for recycled material use in the far-off year 2030. Less numerically defined but quite still specific plans included switching to pulp mold trays and recycled/bio-plastics in packaging starting this year.

When it comes to marketing its sustainability moves, Google should probably make much more firm and specific commitments. As it stands, today’s announcement reads more like a handful of token, low-effort marketing points. The company clearly cares about improving the environmental impact of its hardware products, but it needs to make and express more clear and concrete goals.