What is a Human-Centric Experience?

I didn’t go to college to study graphic design. I stumbled on it while navigating a double major in dramatic arts and anthropology. That might sound like a hard sell to agencies, but I can draw a line back from every successful design to those four years researching storytelling and human experience.

AAF Lexington hosted its third consecutive Interactive Social conference, focusing this year on the theme of “Delivering Human-Centric Experiences.” We heard from Daniel Dejan on how touch influences the consumption of print media; Manija Emran on the impact of motion and typography; and finally, Matt Rollins on design as both experience and story.

As branding creatives, we deliver experiences and tell stories to elicit an emotional response. We are connecting with other humans. And how we tell these stories to people is as important as the stories themselves—literally, the intersection of theatre and anthropology.

Daniel Dejan, ETC Print & Creative Manager for Sappi, illustrated this principle by way of an MRI study that found when people read content from a screen, it engaged only one sense—sight. But when those same people read from a printed book, they not only saw the words, but they could smell the ink, hear the pages turn, and feel the paper. When you create a multisensory experience, people establish a deeper relationship with the content. Put simply, how we experience content impacts retention and perception.

Marshall McCluhan, a 20th century media theorist famously observed, “the medium is the message.” And it couldn’t be truer for Manija Emran, an Afghan born film title designer. Her work brings meaning to words through motion and typography. You don’t just read the words in Emran’s title sequences…you experience them.

And that concept of experience is essential to how Matt Rollins, Executive Creative Director at Max Media, understands storytelling. He says that humans communicate primarily by way of stories; we interpret our experience through narrative. “So if I design something,” Rollins says, “I have to be aware you’ll turn it into a story.”

We—as designers—aren’t just telling brand stories, we’re weaving brands into the individual narratives of real human people. For someone who studied theatre and anthropology, this isn’t a new concept. But it is a reminder of the responsibility designers have not only to our clients, but our audience as well. We wield tremendous influence when we deliver human-centric experiences. What we say matters, but how we say it matters even more.