Human-Centered Design and the Pursuit of Happiness


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The outdoor recreational movement of the past century is experiencing a comeback. Whether it is due to post-pandemic attitudes or newfound energy to balance work and life, people are seeking out new and novel adventures. Like many leading brands who value the voice of the customer to drive innovation, Igloo is embracing its historic roots to steer its future.

What began as a post-WWII metal shop in 1947, bringing cold and clean drinking water to booming construction sites, has evolved into the uber-functional, best-in-class ice chests that consumers know so well today. Since the beginning, Igloo has adopted the core principles of human-centered design (HCD), and as a result has been instrumental in evolving how people work, live, and play.

The Principles at Play

Rather than simply gathering the customer’s voice as an initial input for the traditional product development process, HCD places human beings as the North Star throughout all phases of design and innovation initiatives.

This empathy-oriented mindset is a way of ensuring that a product or experience is created with the end customer in mind. It guides away from building internally focused solutions that often do not perform as well in market. More than that, HCD can create new kinds of value in consumers’ lives by:

  • Seeking out connections and implications rather than merely presenting evidence
  • Focusing on solving problems instead of being restricted by a methodology
  • Facilitating and interpreting customer needs amidst the broader landscape

The Deepening Need to Remain “Cool”

Despite the basic functions of the cooler remaining constant, Igloo was feeling increased competitive pressure from lifestyle brands like Yeti. It became apparent that Igloo needed to learn more than just what people “do” with their coolers. In order to advance their mission – to create products that enable the pursuit of happiness – they needed to reframe the question, enabling true understanding of why consumers do what they do; of their needs across a growing array of activities; and most importantly, the emotional payoff they are seeking when engaging in such activities.

Through immersing in consumers’ lives through consumer diaries and virtual interviews, we were able to gain a deeper understanding of consumers’ day-to-day lives—and where and how Igloo’s products fit into them. Looking through this empathic lens helped to illuminate gaps in the market and modernize pain points and triggers that could evoke positive experiences and lead to more enduring reciprocal relationships with customers.

When the Past Informs the Future

The Igloo brand ethos has remained steady throughout the years, staying true to a focus on building products that last; being made for anyone, anywhere; and enabling good times with family and friends. In our work, we learned that over two-thirds of consumers still associate Igloo with this ethos. In more recent years, through the principles of HCD, Igloo has managed to both modernize and keep the nostalgia that speaks to their audience—– keeping their footing as one of the top players in the increasingly competitive cooler industry.

Ultimately this work helped shape a strategy to keep Igloo designing for the future consumer. Understanding the emotional drivers guided the team toward future opportunities and white space they could go after and win. The consumer use cases helped identify categories where gaps existed, giving way to new product development inspiration. Through gaining a deeper understanding of their customers, Igloo was able to launch an incredibly successful new retro-designed product line – connecting consumers to the nostalgic history they associate with the brand. Additionally, the work provided insight and tools to help build stronger relationships between consumers through the retail channel – providing flexible solutions for the here and now and for the future.

Evolving for the Future Takes Discipline

We know consumers’ lives are continuously evolving. And for brands looking to foster loyalty with consumers, it is vital to stand at the ready. That requires pivoting to meet consumers where they are and getting regular feedback to ensure brand strategy stays on point.

However, if we’ve learned one thing about innovation over the past few years, it’s that sometimes pivots just don’t stick. Take for example the onset of virtual happy hours. They evolved the way humans worked, lived, and played too, but only for a while. As our world began to open up, the pandemic-triggered activity turned obsolete, and people returned back to in-person entertainment. This forced brands like Zoom, Microsoft, and Google to re-think their marketing strategies once again, relying less on external factors and more on the enduring attributes of their brand offerings. The key is to listen and learn from your audience despite their tendency to be momentarily swayed by external forces.

There is no way to predict the next disruptor, but we can plan for it. Staying close to consumers and remaining agile in the face of changing demands are critical for brands to remain relevant. There is no better time to embrace a human-centered design mindset and continue to keep a pulse on your customers. Look for ways to include your consumers in the innovation journey, keep building the empathy muscle in your organization and don’t stop thinking about the future. HCD helps to achieve a deep level of understanding that will equip your organization with the insight and tools needed to stay cool with consumers as the future unfolds.

Patricia Salamone
A career strategist having worked across the financial services, CPG, media and telecom sectors, Patricia seeks resonance with every problem she is hired to solve. She sees innovation through the lens of human need, framing what is to be solved not through the problem at hand, but rather the mystery to be unraveled. Innovation work, she believes, does not simply exist across a spectrum of incremental to disruptive, rather it occurs in the form of equity to be stretched, product lines to be extended, and positioning strategies to be reimagined.


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