Human Centred Design Isn’t Demographics

When it comes to Human Centred Design, it is all too easy to become distracted by demographics. You may well have done this yourself in the past. You can imagine a product design or a website structure that is aimed to appeal to a certain target group. For example, you might think of a design that is devised for middle-aged men, women over 65 or – more often than not in some sectors – for younger people under 25, for example.

But all this begs the question, what are these demographic groups that we are so focussed on? After all, women between 35 and 60 years of age are not a truly coherent group. Even if you tighten your demographic a little and say you are interested in middle-class males from 25 to 35, then you still couldn’t define who your design is truly for. We might all have a typical example of who we mean when we think in demographic groups like this – what psychologists call an archetype – but these people don’t exist in reality. In short, we are all individuals. Therefore, when human-centred design becomes fixated on a stereotypical example of a demographic, we end up speaking to no one.

Overall, thinking about demographics is always going to be a big part of marketing design. It helps to simplify the world’s population down into manageable groups that we can get our heads around. With a human-centred design, however, the challenge should be a bit different. The aim should be more focussed on what makes people people, not what makes them a member of this demographic group or that. People are much more fluid than this sort of ‘boxed off’ thinking allows for. Few, if any of us, like to be bracketed in such a way, after all.

So, when you are thinking about human-centred design, whatever your purpose for such a design aesthetic might be, ask yourself: how do I engage the individual rather than the group? In other words, a human-centred design ought to offer an imaginative way of talking to multiple people from multiple groups who self-identify in particular ways that are distinct from one another. The key to being successful, therefore, is to put together a design which can be replicated in meaningful ways to different people whether or not they fall inside or outside of demographic target groups. However, all of your clients must still feel they are being communicated with individually. It should be as simple as engaging people at the human level. The trick is how you pull it off, of course!

The Role of Narrative

When we engage with someone, whether it is in person, from the design of a website, from a book or from a film, we are often looking past the medium that might be between us to the story that lies beneath. Successful human-centred design ought not, therefore, be a jumble of disparate elements all designed to appeal to certain demographics but something that takes us on a journey. Instead, it should be about storytelling.

When you tell a story, it needn’t be long, involved or demanding. Good human-centred design can be immediately impactful but it will create engagement because of the narrative going on. You might pose a question, describe a journey or offer solutions. The elements are less important than the emotional impact the story has. Ideally, a narrative in human-centred design will work because it creates emotive responses. To put it as simply as possible: people like stories because they create emotions that, in turn, generate actionable responses.

Why Emotion?

Emotions don’t need to be extreme in human-centred design. Grief, jealousy and rage might all play their part in storytelling as they do in daily life but a sound human-centred design can make just as appropriate use of less stirring emotions. Think of human-centred design in architecture, for example. Does the design of a building make people feel at home? Do they find it appealing to their sense of togetherness or that it provokes thoughts of being safe? If so, these are all emotive responses that have actionable results. Places that have been designed to promote such responses are more likely to lead to sales, in the end, depending on the market they are destined for, of course. A warehouse design may have a very different set of emotions connected to it than a family home.

The point is that people don’t decide what to do, where to buy and when to negotiate based on their analytical thought alone. In fact, as we are all creatures of emotion – whether we like to admit it or not – emotive responses are often behind the way people apply their logic to commercial decisions. In other words, if you create the right narrative in your design which sets off favourable emotional responses, then your target audience will even justify purchasing decisions to themselves based on a logical interpretation that is used to justify the initial emotional response.

Conversely, if you appeal to the logic of your design without the emotional part of the story being told, then your audience is more likely to be dryly analytical and, consequently, more critical. You can sell on logic alone, of course. However, it is simply much harder to do so without human emotions coming into play. This is what good human-centred design affords you, of course.

In Summary

Human-centred design applies to all products, services and brands. It has been used even before the modern commercial age by writers and artists to captivate us as individuals as well as groups of people. Multiple interpretations are possible – desirable, even – with human-centred design. The idea is to tell a tale that engages and promotes emotion because with an emotion you are able to communicate at a deeper level with people. Emotional communication builds empathy around your brand, makes clients feel understood, forms consistent messaging and promotes favourable responses which can all affect your bottom line. Ditch the demographic approach and see the results for yourself.