Leveraging Digital Design to Humanize Brands

We live in an age of rapid technological advancement. Yet, despite the benefits of new technology, like AI and machine learning, people still crave human interaction. In fact, its people, not technology, that drive a business’s bottom line, according to a 2018 Customer Loyalty Report by Calabrio, a workforce optimization software company.

“To stay competitive, companies must innovate using new technology… However, as companies continue to implement technology, they must keep customer connection at the heart of every strategy,” the report states. And today’s designers play a crucial role in helping humanize the digital experience.

Tommy Perez, a keynote speaker at this year’s Evolve Design Conference, started implementing this practice while at Facebook, where he worked as a designer. During his time at Facebook, the social platform began looking for ways to humanize its experience to convey that it cared about its users. One of their ideas was to create handcrafted videos for birthdays and other milestones —  a concept they continue to implement. While this experience is most certainly underpinned by a system of seriously advanced tech, it was created with the human at the heart of it. 

While much of our daily interactions —  or things we use —  are delivered through an intricate web of tech, it’s the designers behind it all who create the way we experience it, perceive it, and interact with it.

The below brands have found a way to leverage design to create a transcendent digital experience that incorporates the human touch.

Brands with the human touch.

  1. Duolingo – this language-learning app is designed to make education free, entertaining, and uplifting for each of its users, no matter their circumstances. Whether learners are in pursuit of a new hobby or a new life, the Duolingo experience has to resonate across all ages, genders and cultures, which it masterfully does through its gamified approach and relatable, lovable and fun design. Its mascot, Duo the owl, is a key component of this, helping users reach their language goals, serving as their daily reminder to hop on the app and get their daily practice in while also celebrating users’ accomplishments as they go.  
  2. Prose – known as one of the first beauty companies to introduce customizable hair care products, Prose’s online hair quiz is a perfect example of utilizing the digital space to create a highly personalized experience for their customers. The quiz itself is fluid, easy-to-use and comprehensive. It incorporates a number of graphic design elements and useful tips to help users identify things like their hair type and strand thickness. After the quiz, customers pick their scents and then receive their made-to-order products. Each bottle is customized, too, with your formula’s main ingredients listed front and center on the label —  a final human touch that lives beyond the digital space. All together, Prose’s online experience produces results that customers feel they can trust —  and it’s their designers that help drive this belief home.
  3. Slack – first designed as a tool to support internal communications between co-workers, this software has only continued to innovate and change the way employees connect. In addition to its ever-popular giphy feature (aka productivity killer), Slack also has integrations that can congratulate co-workers for their various achievements as well as help you measure your employees’ overall satisfaction and happiness within the workplace. Under the hood, Slack is a substantial piece of tech, but it’s evident the user experience reigned supreme in designing it. From the quippy messages that appear as it loads to the thoughtful placement of its various features, the functional, fun and human design of Slack is what has made the platform so wildly popular and a quintessential part of the team culture for many companies.  
  4. Fitbit – this fitness app has been highly successful at turning first-time customers into long-term advocates primarily because of its fundamental understanding of what motivates people to make dramatic changes in their lifestyle. Much of this hinges on its human-centered design. The designers have a clear understanding of how to keep people reliant on their Fitbits, turning this piece of technology into a virtual personal wellness coach. People got addicted to the thrill of reaching new step goals or getting congratulated for achieving weight loss targets, ultimately evoking a behavioral change that has caused so many people to embrace exercise, lose weight, and regain control of their lives.

The point is, great tech cannot exist without great design. It’s what creates the experience. And while design can deliver an unforgettable experience without the use of tech, many savvy designers are blending the two to take the experience to the next level.

Take Tommy for example. While no longer with Facebook, he has found a way to creatively blend the human touch and technology. Tommy’s craft —  what he dubs as his “passion project” —  consists of making quirky illustrations out of paper and then animating them. He starts by handcrafting the design, photographing it then digitizing it to create an interactive experience from something that would otherwise be static. Essentially, his process marries both the real and digital worlds, producing pieces he hopes will captivate people and ultimately put a smile on their face.

When we asked what he thinks design’s role is in technology, his answer was simple: “People love to feel that human connection, and having a handcrafted touch helps drive that home.”

If you’re looking to learn more about Tommy and his take on design and technology, you can see him at the Evolve Design Conference on October 12 and 13.

by Breanne Krager