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How to Apply Human-Centered Design Thinking to Communication Strategy

Rootid's Human-Centered Design Thinking for Communications Strategy

"Being a human-centered designer is about believing that as long as you stay grounded in what you’ve learned from people, your team can arrive at new solutions that the world needs." -IDEO Field Guide to Human-Centered Design

What is Human-Centered Design Thinking?

Really all it means is putting the people you are serving front and center—learning from them and working in collaboration to develop the most authentic and powerful results. In the case of IDEO and, they are working with people and organizations to solve poverty, hunger, and other large-scale world problems. But these same techniques and processes can be used to guide communications strategy for non-profit organizations. 

Human-centered design thinking frames the process Rootid facilitates with clients at the start of new projects, during what we call "the discovery phase." Sometimes, we refer to what we are doing as 'strategic art therapy' but ultimately, it is using art, design and the creative process to develop stronger, cohesive and more thoughtful communications strategies grounded in the core values of our clients' missions.

We also refer to the discovery process as our 'sponge phase' because it is our opportunity to absorb as much information about our clients, their work, and their communities as we can. As a collaborative communications firm, Rootid our goal is to become the expert facilitator and guide rather than 'tell' clients what they need to do.

By working together and helping our clients tap into their own creativity, inspiration and passion, we are able to develop brand and communications strategies that are more powerful, authentic and ultimately engaging to constituents.

Tips & Resources for Applying Human-Centered Design Thinking to Communication Strategy

  1. Understanding the core values of the organization & defining what success looks and feels like. This can often be more complicated than you would think. Maybe programs are changing or a shift in organizational culture... Using design thinking to revitalize your brand and then moodboarding your vision (individuallly or as a group) can be a really effect way to regain concensus amongst key stakeholders.
  2. Identify who the target audiences are and developing your personas can be a tricky task. You need to allow yourselves to cast your net broadly before narrowing down and (here is a spreadsheet we use to facilitate this process).
  3. Establish the paths/workflows/journeys your organization wants community members to take toward specified end-goals. Think through the transformation of each persona. (see Tab 3: Persona Journeys from the spreadsheet above.

Download our free resources to help you get started on this project internally!

"Creative confidence is the belief that everyone is creative, and that creativity isn’t the capacity to draw or compose or sculpt, but a way of understanding the world." -IDEO Field Guide to Human-Centered Design 

Our clients are the experts in their fields, our job is to help them communicate what they do more effectively.

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Valerie Neumark Mickela - director of strategic initiatives & education, founder

Valerie Neumark

Rootid Co-founder and Managing Partner, Valerie is a brand strategist and art director with almost 20 years experience in the corporate, education and nonprofit sectors.

Valerie's diverse professional background spans a wide range of experiences including teaching Kindergarten through Post-secondary art, science and web design; education administration as a Founding Principal of a 6th-12th grade private school and Associate Director of Career Services at Art Center College of Design; design and art direction in the automotive industry; founding board member for two growing nonprofits, and now communications strategy consultant for both local, statewide and national nonprofits/social good companies.

Valerie has her Bachelor's Degree in Visual Arts & Media from University of California San Diego and a Master's Degree in Education from Pepperdine University. She was also a 2016 recipient of Pepperdine University's inaugural 40 under 40 Award. In her free time she plays soccer, loves to hike, watch baseball and read Pookie books to her daughter.