How to Build a Powerful Brand Through Human-Centered Design

Hollie Arnett
May 13, 2018 · 6 min read
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When 48% of consumers expect brands to know them and help them discover new products or services that fit their needs, and customers expect to be recognised, treated as an individual, have a seamless experience, see their needs anticipated, and their voice heard, brands need to understand who their people are in order to succeed.

Now more than ever, people expect to have real, authentic, human and relational experiences with the brands that they interact with. 80% of consumers say “authenticity of content” is the most influential factor in becoming a follower of a brand, and 62% of millennials feel online content often encourages brand loyalty, so pursuing authentic content could be key to the success of brands. But how does a brand discover the type of authentic content and brand experiences that their customers are looking for to build a powerful brand?

Human-Centered Design

“Embracing human-centered design means believing that all problems…are solvable. Moreover, it means believing that the people who face those problems every day are the ones who hold the key to their answer. ”

As IDEO define in The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, this process and way of thinking allows problem-solvers to truly understand the people they are trying to reach and create innovative solutions to the problems that those people face. While human-centered design can be used to solve huge problems like poverty, gender equality and clean water, it can also be used as a powerful way for businesses to get to know their customers, communicate with them more effectively, and provide valuable, authentic and relevant content that they will actually want to consume.


“We believe that a solution is out there and that by keeping focused on the people we’re designing for and asking the right questions, we’ll get there together.”

A lot of human-centered design is about adopting the right mindsets. IDEO explain that their “approach amounts to wild creativity, to a ceaseless push to innovate, and a confidence that leads us to solutions we’d never dreamed of when we started.” This process requires the adoption of 7 mindsets that enable the best possible outcomes:

  • Creative Confidence

Making the mental shift towards confidence, action, experimentation, empathy, uncertainty, optimism and iteration will put you in the best possible position to understand your customer and create the most impacting solutions for them as it leaves room for fun and exciting ideation and creation!

Read more about each of these mindsets in The Field Guide.


The human-centered design process isn’t always a linear one and will ebb and flow depending on your project; however, it will generally follow three main phases: inspiration, ideation and implementation. Here is how the Field Guide explains these stages:

  • Inspiration
    “In this phase, you’ll learn how to better understand people. You’ll observe their lives, hear their hopes and desires, and get smart on your challenge.”

To build your brand, you will need to be inspired by your people and understand who they are, then begin to analyse what you learn and develop ideas for potential solutions, before actioning these ideas and learning how to make them happen in order to powerfully impact your customers.


The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design offers more than 50 methods that you can use throughout this process. Here a few that I think would be the most beneficial in building a powerful brand.


Frame Your Design Challenge

Before you begin working on your challenge, you first need to know what problem you are trying to solve. Use the worksheet in the guide to help you frame your design challenge and start the process on the right foot.

Secondary Research

If you don’t already know a lot about the industry or the people you are serving, do some research. Read articles, watch videos, listen to podcasts or do whatever you need to do to provide some basic knowledge and general context for what you’re doing.


The easiest way to understand the people in your audience is to talk to them directly. You can talk to them one-on-one or in groups and ask them some key questions about who they are, what they value and how they feel. You can also interview experts in your industry or field to gain a better understanding that way.


As they say, walk a mile in their shoes. Immerse yourself in the lives and communities of your people to see what it’s like to be them. Find out what they experience, how they feel and what and who they interact with.

Whether you like the latest AirBnb brand or not, one of the best things that Design Studio did during that project was send their team members around the world to live in AirBnb’s and experience what it was like as a guest! (You can watch them do that here!)

Card Sort

A fun exercise to do with your customers is to get them to sort cards in order or importance, preference or value to them. It’s a quick and easy way to find out what is the most important to them and why.


Top Five

When you’ve done some research, gained some more understanding and had some new experiences, note down the top 5 ideas that come to mind straight away. They might not be the best ideas right now, but this helps get the ideation ball rolling and identify some key ideas across the team.

Find Themes

As you’re doing these exercises, there will be some key themes popping out. Cluster your ideas, stories and thoughts into themes to identify what these are. Some might seem obvious, but others might surprise you!

Create Insight Statements

From the themes you identified, you will most likely learn some things. You’ve gained insight into your people along the way, so flesh these out. Use the worksheet in the guide to help you make sense of these — it’s super helpful!

How Might We

Turn your insight statements into opportunities by forming ‘how might we’ questions from them! This will help you to determine some solutions that will directly help your audience in powerful ways.

Design Principles

Design principles are super quick and easy guidelines to the rest of the process that will emerge as you follow this process. The Field Guide shows a great example of these, but they’re essentially values or instructions that explain how you will design upcoming solutions. Some Design Principles won’t reveal themselves until you’ve actually designed and tested something, but once you spot them they’ll become essential.


Live Prototyping

Boom. It’s making time. In the ideation phase you will have brainstormed and started to form some ideas, maybe even trying them out along the way, but now it’s time to go live. Take your idea to your people and see what they think!

Define Success

When you launch your idea or ideas, you need to know how you’ll measure success. Set key milestones and make sure that you’re all on the page in terms of knowing what has worked and what hasn’t.

Keep Iterating

If you nailed the Iterate, Iterate, Iterate mindset, you’ll be all good here because it’s important to keep making improvements and developing your ideas as they grow. As IDEO say, “By continuing to iterate, soliciting feedback, and building those learnings back into your solution, you’ll get further toward having a huge impact.”

Monitor & Evaluate

When you defined success, you might have discussed some Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) or goals that will guide you. Once your product, service or solution is out in the world, it’s time to start measuring those things, and evaluating them so that you can continue to make informed iterations and decisions to improve it even further.

Keep Getting Feedback

Remember that this is about your people so don’t forget about them. Keep going back to them and getting their feedback to see how things are going. This is a never-ending process and should be a vital part of your business if you want to succeed.

If you’re going to try any of these methods out, please go through and read their instructions fully in The Field Guide to Human-Centered Design, and take a look at some of the other amazing methods too — there are heaps that are bound to help you out!

I truly believe that if you use human-centered design, your business and brand will grow exponentially. Not only will your customers feel heard, understood and valued, but you will have the knowledge, understanding and experience to provide a valuable, authentic and consistent brand experience for them that will keep them coming back!

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