An Empathetic Approach to Marketing

Warby Parker is revolutionizing the glasses industry — they provide at home delivery and partner with nonprofits to provide underserved communities with affordable eyecare and glasses, creating a streamlined and enjoyable shopping experience. This type of market disruption has become widespread and led to the success of a myriad of companies through the innovative approach of human-centered design. 

Human-centered design leverages three aspects: listen, create, and deliver. This process allows creatives to develop efficient products, systems, and events. Rather than basing a product on what the creator believes is necessary, human-centered design focuses on engaging in empathetic and constructive dialogue to better serve the consumer. This methodology has optimized the work of nonprofits and allowed them to have a stronger impact and better serve local communities.  Through ethnographic research and dialogues, designers can learn the stories of those they are creating for. Destructive assumptions can be avoided and complex problems can be reframed when creatives build audiences and gain insights by seeking feedback. By developing a design approach based on the consumer’s lived experience, the prototype will fulfill the needs of the audience. An empathetic dialogue does not end with the first iteration of a prototype, in fact, continually gathering feedback allows for the systems to evolve with the specific needs of the community.

My fascination surrounding human-centered design began in the classroom, observing the connection between psychology and this new design approach. Recently, however, I saw this thinking’s powerful impact in my personal life when I became a Resident Assistant (RA) on a college campus. One of my priorities is cultivating an enriching and safe community in my residence hall. Each resident has a different level of interest and appreciation for the community that surrounds them, making my priority a bigger challenge. When I first stepped into my role, I was unsure of how to rally students together and get them interested in the community I was attempting to build. After much trial and error, I reached out to the most vocal and engaged students and used them as resources. I realized that the only way to strengthen our environment was to learn how my residents viewed, lived, and interacted with their neighbors. By better understanding what they valued out of their residence hall, I was able to better assist and support them. Had I attempted to throw the same events or tried to emulate other RAs, I would have completely missed what made my dorm unique, and would not have been able to be the type of ally my residents needed. By seeking to engage with my residents, and figure out what suited their needs most, I was able to add value to their community and build authentic relationships. For me, this approach is a mechanism to build richer and deeper experiences.

Ultimately, human-centered design relies on the “desirability lens,” where the wants, needs, and desires of a specific audience converge. By focusing on this intersections, products and systems of value can be created, allowing for the development of authentic connections between consumers and the brand. Human-centered design has the power to bridge the gap between personal experiences and the professional world. When adding value to the human experience is a creative’s primary concern, design takes on a life of its own. If you want to learn more about Warby Parker’s buyer-conscious business plan, listen to PJA’s interview with Neil Blumenthal on The Unconventionals, and tell us what you think.