Right now, the digital marketing landscape is undergoing monumental change. New platforms like Threads and new content paradigms like Reels are springing up from the grave of the 2010s social internet. People have learnt to tune out ads that don’t do something new, and expect a lot more from ads that constantly demand their attention. How on earth can we make digital advertising guarantee a good time online™️? Well, worry not. There is a wonderful discipline from the design world which can shepherd us through this uncertainty.
It’s called human-centred design.
Human-centred design encourages thoughtful conversations about people, their needs, and the impact that a design will have on their lives. It’s all the rage, in industries spanning digital product design to modern museum curation. But, does it really have a role to play in advertising?
Advertising works better when it sells a product that solves someone’s needs. The selling journey should fit their needs, too – advertising blossoms when you thoughtfully consider the experience and feelings of the people you are communicating with.
What is Human-Centred Design?
Human-centred design is a popular method for designing great products and experiences. Its core principle is that every design decision is centred on the people who will be impacted by the product. It is designed thoughtfully, from its physical appearance to its wider purpose. Start ups, digital product designers and experience designers have taken this approach and weave it into their product production, from beautiful and useful digital experiences to government policy.
What tools do you need for human-centred design?
Human-centred design relies on a combination of tools to achieve great design:
Empathy Mapping: This is a tool to capture what someone experiences when they use a product. Designers map the sights, smells, sounds, feelings, thoughts, needs and barriers of a person in a particular moment.
Journey Mapping: A method of understanding every step that gets someone from A to B. For example, a user might see an ad on Facebook, decide the product is interesting, and ultimately end up purchasing the product - but what happened between these two moments? How many steps does it take? Why would someone not take the next step? What could be improved at each step to help them get what they need?
Audience Personas: Personas are example customers who represent the feelings, thoughts and needs of distinct audiences that you are making for. It provides a simple way to design for a large group of people – instead of asking whether a design works for this group, you ask whether it suits this person’s needs.
Insights: Insights are a sentence about an audience that captures something surprising about how they respond. For example, a surprising insight about lonely people is that over time, they start seeing other people as the source of their pain, and try to recede further from society to avoid potential hurt. By researching insights, we can make sure we understand our audiences on a deep level, and make products super specific to their needs.
All these tools stop a team from designing a mediocre experience and help them design a life changing one.
Is human-centred design even relevant for advertising?
Oh yes. At its heart, advertising is all about shaping a desirable customer experience and persuading people of the benefits of a product. The entire process of persuasion is far easier when you have thoughtfully considered the person making the decision, and what might hold them back from trying something new.
Specifically, we’ve found that human-centred approaches have brought huge benefits to our client and customer satisfaction.
You understand your audience better.
If you don’t know your audience, you don’t get results. We have expert Performance and Creative teams at Aro that ensure the right message is shown to the right person at the right time for that exact reason.
A human-centred approach allows our teams to consider what someone is feeling at each stage of an advertising journey, and design the right message to show them. Our advertising behind World of WearableArt had completely messages for people living a short drive away vs. a long distance away. Enticing different audiences to splurge on WOW had to be done in very different ways. Human-centred thinking gets you to those effective messages faster.
You consider the whole journey.
We love website improvements. When a website fails to be useful and usable, it will not matter whether an ad is the Macintosh introduction of its era. Results will be worse. Human-centred design prioritises the quality of every step in a journey, not just the initial ad. We use it to refine and hone every touchpoint, guiding the customer from initial awareness to consideration, until they can confidently sign up/buy/attend.
Further than that, it makes us consider how to use the environments and activities around someone in the advertising journey. Our campaign to reduce airport queues with Aviation Security used human-centred approaches to improve someone’s experience at the airport, without them needing to click into a website. Our search ad showed up on keywords related to a flight (check in, baggage claim, delays) and placed messages about wait times and security requirements in front of stressed travellers. Our advertising helped people learn without requiring them to take lots of action, which is perfect for reducing the strain on their travel. Thinking holistically about the things that connect with our ads, whether it’s a site or the space someone is in when they see it, allows us to use every part in concert to achieve advertising goals.
It encourages challenging conversations.
Human-centred design encourages challenging conversations – it is the superpower of this approach. Often, projects are founded on wildly different objectives for different stakeholders. The designer may want something radical, but the product owner wants something that is unobtrusive. Different stakeholders also have different ideas of success for their ideal audience. When projects lack challenging conversations about audiences, goals, and shared objectives based on design research, it’s a recipe for bad performance.
Human-centred design assumes everyone has a different perspective, and inspires everyone to build a shared foundation and direction for a product. This shared foundation makes every step of designing an ad campaign easier. It aligns designers to create a rhetoric that resonates with the audience. Performance specialists can create the perfect campaign structure. Most importantly, it provides clients with a toolkit to provide constructive feedback. So many pitfalls are avoided before Illustrator is even opened, leading to a far smoother process.
It means treating audiences with more respect.
Lastly, and most importantly to us, it means advertising treats people with more respect. People learn to ignore ads because many ads are irrelevant or without value. Human-centred design in marketing helps us treat every moment we command the attention of a person with the care that it deserves. It adds a level of responsibility to the things we design and distribute. If an ad is not living up to the needs of an audience, it isn’t up to snuff.
Our work with Toitū te Whenua LINZ was a perfect example of this. We created a combination of ads that surprised and delighted developers who were perfect candidates for joining LINZ’s team. We spoke their language (literally) and made a set of ads that were unlike most recruitment campaigns. In return, we saw incredible results and genuinely pleased reactions… to an advertisement! It is possible!
We’re excited about human-centred design and its benefits to our practice. At Aro Digital, we uphold a kaupapa of making a better internet. Human-centred design is the toolkit we wield to do so. We’re experimenting with integrating this approach throughout our workflow, and every step we take is paying dividends. Our clients are building better brand associations with their audiences. We are getting better results for our clients. And our audiences see ads that resonate & ring true to their experience.
Keen to see how this approach could help your business thrive? Drop us a line!