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Creative connection: A formula for creating designs that connect

Let’s not get lost in a sea of sameness as we systematise design and utilise generative AI tools. A drumming gorilla holds the key to creating exceptional designs that connect with people on an emotional level.

Gorilla in a leather jacket sitting at a drum kit in a purple room
My version of the Drumming Gorilla, made with Midjourney.

I first discovered the potential of creative connection when working in advertising and seeing the Cadbury Drumming Gorilla ad. It’s one of the world’s best ads, it’s simple, and it connects with you on an emotional level. It’s something advertisers have been doing for decades, and it showcases principles that designers can leverage to create experiences that resonate with people. I want to share these principles to inspire you to not get lost in a sea of sameness. Instead, leverage the efficiencies to differentiate and design more creative experiences that connect.

Increased efficiency (should) = increased creativity

A visualisation showing a large purple circle including the words: Artificial Intelligence, Design Tokens, Figma Variables, Design systems, ChatGPT, Midjourney. Next to it is a small yellow circle that includes the word: Design.
It seems like we’ve got the balance wrong. Focusing our discussions on technology advancements and less on creativity and ideas.

Think about what dominates our feeds these days. It’s often about emerging technologies like generative AI, design tokens, design systems, and more. While these are essential topics, it’s equally crucial to focus on creativity and ideas. Creative connection helps us ensure that we don’t lose sight of the emotional aspect in the rush for efficiency.

A formula to connect on an emotional level

Creative connection is when a design or a piece of creative connects with you on an emotional level.

It goes beyond logical thinking and stirs feelings within you. Dialling down the head and dialling up the mind. It can be achieved through various design elements such as copy, animation, interaction design, sound design, photography, or visual design. Often, it’s a combination of these elements.

A purple screen with large text showing: HT + SE = CC. Below the large text is smaller text showing: Human Truth + Simple Execution = Creative Connective
The formula: Human Truth + Simple Execution = Creative Connection

The formula that leads to Creative Connection is HT + SE = CC. Or Human Truth + Simple Execution = Creative Connection. I’ll unpack each of these elements, so you know what I’m going on about, but just know that to achieve this requires persistence.

To create work that goes beyond the expected, requires persistence, difficult conversations, and a relentless desire to do something that’s different.

Gorilla sitting at a drum kit, eyes closed, sitting in a purple music studio.
One of the best ads ever. The Cadbury Drumming Gorilla (2007)

Cadbury’s drumming Gorilla is an ad that clearly showcases creative connection. For those that haven’t seen it, check it out.

Human truth: You feel joy, you don’t think it.

Simple execution: Gorilla + Drums + Phil Collins

Creative connection resulted in a 10% increase in sales, over 6 million YouTube views within 3 months, and appearing in the best ads ever lists continually.

Human Truth:

A human truth is a fundamental insight that is undeniably true. It captures a feeling or experience that we all share but might not have been able to express.

It’s that “a-ha” moment when you recognise a truth you didn’t even know you knew.

Purple slide with 3 circles overlaid on each other reducing in size. The first large circle labelled “Obversations”, the second medium circle is labelled “Insights” and the final small circle is labelled “Human Truth”
To craft a Human Truth, you require Observations and Insights.

Finding human truths involves observing people, gaining insights, and crafting a clear statement that emotionally connects. Human truths provide a launchpad for creativity. They set the direction for design by focusing on what truly matters to people.

An example of a human truth in product design comes from Uno Home Loans, a challenger online mortgage broker in Australia. They conducted user research with the following outcomes:

Observation: Most people want to know if their home loan is competitive, but it’s overwhelming.

Insight: Home loans are complex and people value brands that are transparent and can simplify the process.

Human truth: We want to be experts but don’t have the time to time to become one.

Purple background with three mobile devices. Each of the mobile devices are showing a Dial with a score and potential saving someone could be making. One screen is read showing a poor score, the middle one is green showing a good score and the third screen is orange showing a ok score.
The Uno LoanScore addresses the human truth that when it comes to home loans, we all want to be experts, but we don’t have the time to become one.

This human truth is core to the eventual feature they released called the LoanScore. That allowed people to answer a few questions and get a sense of how their current loan compared to others in the market. It resulted in a 16% increase in sales conversions and a 21% increase in customer retention.

To uncover human truths, start with observations and insights. Reduce the insights into a concise statement that emotionally connects, and expands possibilities for ideation and ways to deliver new value to your customers. And don’t forget, it takes creativity, persistence, and deep thinking to craft.

Simple Execution:

In design, simple execution is the process of reduction to the point where a design has just enough information for the viewer to understand your message.

It’s like telling a good joke — it should contain just enough information to convey the message without overwhelming the audience. A cluttered design can be confusing, while an overly minimalistic one might leave people puzzled.

A screenshot of a website checkout experience showing a complex call to action to sign up for free delivery.
As designers, too often we’re given requirements that lead to designs like this. We need to question these requirements and look for opportunities to simplify.

Too often as designers, we’re provided with requirements, competing priorities, and constraints that lead to complex and ineffective solutions.

It’s our responsibility to challenge and question things in the pursuit of simplicity.

Trying to find the right balance of just enough information to entice. In advertising, we were encouraged to continually remove elements from the design until it didn’t make sense and then take it one step back to find the sweet spot.

Three mobile screens showing the OnePass offer module in a checkout flow. The first screenshot has a cross and shows a complex module with lots of information. The middle screen has a tick and shows a medium level of information. The final screen has a cross and shows very little information.
Simple execution is about finding the right balance of information to increase engagement and desirability. Too much is overwhelming, too little is confusing.

As product designers, it’s worthwhile to try the same practice of reduction. It can feel uncomfortable to show people a design that might not make sense, just like sharing a joke that doesn’t quite land. But the more we put ourselves out there, test, and iterate, the more likely we are to achieve simple execution.

Three screenshots of Pinterest’s Image search feature. The first screen shows the icon to initiate the search. The middle screen shows an image with a bounding box for people to edit. The final screen shows multiple results that look similar to the area inside the bounding box.
Pinterest’s “Visual Search” feature is a brilliant example of simple execution

A brilliant example of simple execution is from Pinterest. The “Visual Search” function is simple and intuitive. People can tap the icon, and adjust the bounding boxes to focus on the area of interest, all while getting updated results below to inform their actions. It leverages image recognition, known UI patterns, and impressive engineering to deliver a delightful experience which I assume leads to increased engagement and user success.

To achieve a simple execution, it’s essential to set expectations early, leverage interaction design, and iteratively test your designs. The goal is to provide just the right amount of information in a clear and concise manner.

Creative connection out in the wild

So what does it look like when human truths and simple executions collide in product design?

I have 3 examples that demonstrate this, and guess what!? They include a bit of generative AI and Machine Learning, just to prove I dig our eventual robotic overlords.

Letgo — Post in a Snap

A slide with a mobile screen shot. The mobile is showing an app with the camera activated. There’s a bike in view with words overlaid reading “Bike, typically sells for $100 in about 10 days.” there is also a “Take photo” button.

Letgo was a Marketplace in the US that launched a feature a while back that allowed people to list the item they wanted to sell with just a photo. They simply executed this by using image recognition to identify the attributes of the item, the title, and the recommended price. The human truth — people will opt for the path of least resistance.

Spotify — Unwrapped

There is a combination of mobile screens placed side by side. They are an array of colours from purple, green and pink. On each screen is a screenshot of Spotify Wrapped application. The first is an intro screen. The second shows an album cover for Dua Lipa. The third shows “Your top artists” and 5 different artists names in a table.

Who had a moment of joy sharing their top 5 songs played on Spotify? Or now dread, as it’s flooded with Frozen and Moana songs thanks to your 6-year-old daughter!? The human truth here is that music defines us, and the simple execution is a beautiful data story that’s simply executed through dynamic and vibrant visuals.

Looking to the future — Siri

A screenshot of Apple Carplay inside a car. The screen is black with white text on it. It shows text, two large white buttons with a tick and a cross as well as some wavy lines indicating Siri chat. The words say “Just checking, would you like me to let your Mum know you’re driving and that you’ll call her when you’re home?”

What if we could leverage technology and creative connection to increase the emotional intelligence of other products we use, like Siri in CarPlay? Imagine driving and getting a text message from your mum. Currently, when asked whether we want to reply, we’re presented with yes/no options. What if we could leverage the human insight, that “we don’t always have time for the ones we love” as well as contextual smarts to instead ask: “Just checking, would you like me to let her know you’re driving and that you’ll call her when you’re home?” This kind of moment is the type of experience I’d like us all to be striving for.

Creative connection is a powerful approach to design. It ensures that our creations touch people on an emotional level, making them more memorable and effective. Understanding human truths and achieving a simple execution are key components of creative connection.

As designers and creators, we have a responsibility to challenge the status quo, question assumptions, and strive for designs that delight and connect with our audience. By focusing on creative connection, we can create experiences that resonate and leave a lasting impact. So, the next time you’re starting a design project, remember the formula: Human Truth + Simple Execution = Creative Connection.

References and further reading:

Hungry for more about the Cadbury Drumming Gorilla? Here are some articles on the story of the ad’s creation:

Interesting articles on insights:

This ad is a brilliant example of Simple Execution:

The ad that changed advertising.

More on the research that went into Uno Home Loans:

Uno: Home Loans Made Simple | Proto

Creative Connection: What a drumming gorilla can teach designers was originally published in UX Collective on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.






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