Please enter some search terms
ThinkPlace designer Juanita Rodriguez work on a co-designed branding campaign

How to do brand design that's human-centred

Great design is simple, beautiful and easy to use. Great branding should be no different. 

But that’s not all it that great design needs to be. When creating designs for new programs, processes and experiences we increasingly want and expect designs to be user-centred. But while brand cultivation is often a collaborative process, communication typically exists between the professional designer and the client, with the end user largely excluded from the creative process. 

Although professional designers may be equipped to produce beautiful graphics and clients may be able to align these graphics with organizational values and strategy, a key player is missing to translate these brands into relevant and meaningful messages: the target audience.

Thus, when tasked to develop a family planning quality assurance visual brand in Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Niger, and Burkina Faso, ThinkPlace US designers Juanita Rodriguez and Brooke Barker knew exactly where to turn -- to the users themselves.

The design process was facilitated in Lomé, Togo and enlisted the contextual experience and family planning expertise of local healthcare providers, family planning NGOs, and users from the four West African countries. 

While these participants possessed a deep knowledge and understanding of family planning in these environments, they were by no means marketing specialists or graphic artists, and many had little to no experience with the world of visual design. 

Thus, an additional challenge was added: How might we cultivate a creative space and develop an innovative and meaningful brand with participants who felt unqualified to produce visual design?


ThinkPlace designer Juanita Rodriguez work on a co-designed branding campaign



Staring at a blank page is intimidating for even the most creative of minds.  Providing real-life examples of well-known logos and sparking discussion about their origin as well as the values and meaning they reflect allowed participants to apply some of those same principles used in their favorite brands and logos to the design challenge at hand. 



Ultimately, all design is targeted towards real people with complex problems and pain points. By leading participants through persona profiling, empathy exercises, and values identification, stakeholders were able to begin reframing a lot of information in ways that connected them to the users or beneficiaries. They were then more able to translate these into visual representations such as brand title, color selection, and imagery.  


ThinkPlace designer Juanita Rodriguez work on a co-designed branding campaign


Just because participants are not visual artists, doesn’t mean they aren’t creative. That’ s why mixing mediums and methods for creation can allow everyone to contribute regardless of how they think or process information.  

For example, some people may not enjoy or be inspired by drawing, but they learn well from making a song or demonstrating a concept in a skit. No group should be shackled to one form of creation if that isn’t a medium in which they feel comfortable creating.



During a design process it is important to prioritize the most important elements encompassing the brand. While it is tempting to cram as much as possible into a logo or branding materials, this may ultimately dilute the brand’s power and authority.  

Instead, why not ask participants to consider things such as: What is it that users associate the most with quality? And the most with family planning? Use these key elements to build the visual branding framework, understanding that many globally recognized brands speak for themselves.  

For us, creating multiple prototypes and gathering feedback from users in markets and focus groups discussions was helpful to understand which elements should be reflected in the brand. Color selection, symbols, and typography had to be carefully tested and selected so that the end result could effectively reach as many users and non-users in the four target countries.  

ThinkPlace took a co-design approach to creating a new brandIt’s amazing how often the principles of human-centered design are ignored when it comes to questions of branding and brand expression. 

Creating a design culture extends beyond the aesthetic and functional aspects of everyday objects. Design emphasizes processes over final results and has the potential to empower individual and collective work, through social interactions, to build innovative, surprising, and resilient solutions. 

Maybe the final result could have been achieved by a great designer or a great branding team (maybe not). What we do know is that the creative co-design process we undertook inspired and established new ways of conceiving a brand with social purpose and emphasized the importance of involving the user throughout the process. 


Share article: 
Brooke Cretz's profile'
Brooke Cretz
Juanita Rodriguez's profile'
Juanita Rodriguez

Want to stay up to date with our work and ideas?

Sign up for our monthly newsletter

Sign up