Thoughtful Human-Centered Design Should Sell Products--Not “Great” Marketing

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January 13, 2022
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9 Min Read Time
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January 13, 2022
Human-centered product design draws inspiration from real people, real problems and strives to delight and benefit them—ultimately driving sales and aiding marketing efforts, not relying on them.

Too often, persuasive, even deceptive marketing is implemented to cover up for poorly designed products. It is done under the umbrella of "bridging the intention-action gap," but really, at its core, these marketing tactics can become a way to make up for a product that simply missed the mark. This is neither an indictment of great marketing nor a suggestion that well-designed products can't fail. Rather, it is an observation, become conviction, that closing the intention-action gap, often referred to in a marketing context, is actually something more effectively addressed at the point of design, not at the point of sale.  


What is the Intention-Action Gap?


Also called the value-action gap or knowledge-attitudes-practice gap, it is an occurrence that happens when one's intentions, values, or attitudes don't line up with their actual actions. While marketers are typically charged with closing the intention-action gap to garner purchases, we argue that the real magic happens in the design phase--especially in human-centered design (HCD). After all, end-user research done by product design teams and consumer research done by marketing professionals are somewhat similar, if not two sides of the same coin. However, the real power lies with the former because instead of looking for information to persuade customers to buy an existing product, designers *should develop products supported by a users existing beliefs, behaviors, and needs. This critical difference lays a sturdy foundation not just for a one-time bridge to an end-user but a lasting connection, ideally allowing marketing to be easier, more truthful, and more human-centered. 


Poor Product Design Encourages Poor Marketing


Product design and marketing are two very different fields--but one hand feeds the other. When both disciplines are done "right," the likelihood of a product succeeding and selling is high. In a perfect world, human-centered designers would work hand-in-hand with human-centered marketers for the benefit of all humankind. But, the world is not perfect. Good products go unnoticed; bad, even harmful products sell in disturbing abundance. To be fair, products shouldn't need any of the dubious marketing strategies mentioned below--they represent the failure of both parties. But, such is the world we live in--a world we aim to change, one thoughtfully crafted product at a time. 


HCD Solves Problems, Does Not Create Them


One of the rising issues we see with design and technology is a drift towards creating problems to solve, not solving them. This is a blog topic for another day; however, this has long been a marketing approach to sales. It is ostensibly a marketer's job to create need in a prospective consumer's mind then turn it into a want to sell products, apps, or services. Conversely, it is the duty of HCD designers to identify a need and then fill it. While both of these approaches sell products by bridging the intention-action gap, a product based on a real need, rather than a contrived or assumed one, will ultimately benefit both the consumer and the brand long-term. To be clear, when a marketing team finds themselves seeking out wanton needs around a product to make it sell--the fault is often with the product’s design.  


HCD Delivers the Most Benefits, Not the Most Features


Features and benefits have long been a tool of sales and marketing persuasion. It is the process of connecting the features of a product to the benefits presumably received by the customer. There is nothing wrong with this line of salesmanship or anything inherently flawed about a product having plenty of both. However, while a ton of features may be great for sales, i.e., "It slices, it dices, it splices your multimedia data, it'll even julienne fries!"--it rarely denotes excellence in design. Instead, an HCD designer lays the groundwork for marketers who frequently utilize an "increase rewards" tactic to bridge the intention-action gap by focusing on delivering more benefits and fewer superfluous features. This allows them to acquire and sustain sales rather than relying on the "hype."


HCD Makes Lasting Emotional Connections, Not Impulse Buys


Do attractive products work better? No. Well, maybe.  


In his book "Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things," Don Norma artfully argues that objects, or for our purpose products, may presumably work better because beautiful design triggers positive emotional responses, thereby delighting users and making an emotional connection. So, while an "impulse buy" is undoubtedly something many, if not most, marketers seek as a bridge to the intention-action gap (having overcome troublesome hurdles like actual need), the term has negative connotations for a reason. In the long run, a product that entices people to buy rather than connects on an emotional level will likely breed disdain rather than joy in the end. Emotion-based, human-centered design is the antithesis of an impulse buy. It facilitates communication between a product and person, seeking the right audience, not just any. By doing this, HCD leads to products that flourish, purchases that are beneficial, and brands people will come back to time and time again: saleability, useability, and sustainability.

It’s Not a Marketing Thing--It’s Human-Centered Design


There is no better time to ponder in earnest the intention-action gap than at the beginning of a new year, especially as human-centric designers. This is because, just like the people who use the products, apps, and interfaces we create--we too find ourselves faced with unresolved resolutions of another year gone by. Of course, these lapses are forgivable and, more to the point, can be quite instructive to those of us who design the journey of everyday things. By exploring and recognizing the breadth of the gap between what we were going to do and what we actually did, it reminds us that our job as designers is not to make products that sell.  It is to create things using human-centered design that helps humans be the best versions of themselves--and that is good marketing.


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