Act Meaningfully: Delivering Resonance Through Design - Signal Theory
Act Meaningfully Graphic

By Parc Masterson, Innovation & Experience Director

Our May 2 post covered how our strategic approach — Resonance Branding — leverages social science, data and cultural systems to enable Signal Theory to more deeply understand people, brands and the signals they send. (Definitely consider reading the post if you haven’t.)

But how do we use that understanding to craft compelling, meaningful signals that resonate deeply to win trust and build emotion-based relationships between brands and people? How do we create the magic that builds brand loyalty?

It doesn’t happen through a carefully controlled scientific process. Nor is it an expression of inspired genius. It happens somewhere at the intersection. It happens by design.

To act meaningfully is to create with efficiency, purpose and intention. Human-centered design (or design thinking) provides the necessary framework to guide our teams’ actions and choices. Design enables us to apply the understanding of complex human thoughts and emotions to create new or optimize existing brand signals. Further — when combined with principles from lean/agile — design enables us to better operationalize and deliver strategic value to clients while continually learning and improving as a firm.

For Signal Theory, human-centered design is a method of action that depends on a few deceptively simple concepts enacted in concert:

Continual Empathy

It starts (and ends) with empathy. Our teams capture, analyze and model the many relevant signals our users send, receive and interact with. These models enable us to draw conclusions and inferences about people’s needs and motivations. Over time — and with the help of formal exercises and artifacts — we’re better able to develop deep empathy for the people for whom we’re designing. At no time during our work do we stop empathizing. We continually cycle between gathering, developing and then applying. People and their needs serve as a compass across the life of a project.

Co-creating Outcomes

Born from our culture of extreme collaboration, Signal Theory relies on co-creation with clients and their users to define and develop outcomes together. We serve as a sort of intermediary to bring balance to the needs of both parties. Creating alongside our clients and their users gives our teams additional perspectives and furthers our understanding of the problem space. This co-creation gives users the opportunity to guide our projects forward by helping to define what is impactful and valuable, thus creating greater opportunities to efficiently build resonance.

Making to Learn

Making — the act of giving thoughts or concepts a tangible form — is an invaluable part of our approach and key to “acting meaningfully.” At Signal Theory, we instill a “bias toward action” so that any idea — not just the client-facing ones — can be explored through the creation of tangible artifacts. Whether it’s a communications plan, packaging concept, augmented reality lens or a myriad of other things, we know that ideas are better communicated when given form. These prototypes serve as vessels to share points of view, demonstrate validity and ensure that our intentions are true.

Testing Prototypes

Turning ideas into prototypes helps us individually and as teams explore solutions. Putting those prototypes in front of others (e.g., clients, users, SMEs) enables us to evaluate our assumptions, gather evidence (data!) and gain confidence in the vision we’ve cast for our clients and their consumers. The fidelity of our prototypes scales according to the needs of our clients and our teams. By incorporating feedback early and often, we can escalate fidelity to match the opportunity for impact and potential for resonance.


Viewed through the lens of “perpetual beta,” every client engagement is a system of prototypes and learning never really ends. Every idea, every strategy, every artifact or tactic is merely the latest expression of the team’s best thinking. Incorporating new data points, whether perspectives from our teams/clients/users or agreed-upon performance measures, enhances our understanding of resonance and generates new opportunities for potential brand signals.

Keeping the needs of people at the heart of our work, building teams with diverse perspectives, and using clients and their consumers to envision outcomes enables us to uncover ideas that resonate equally with brands and people. Turning these ideas into prototypes and sharing them validates our ideas and leads to new insights. Purposefully incorporating insights and evidence propels us toward a new, more valuable iteration with confidence and intention. That’s acting meaningfully.

The concepts above are fundamental to any design-driven organization. However, when infused with the depth of understanding we’re able to achieve using social, behavioral and data science, and then applied to any number of traditional and novel marketing and design activities, the results are a formidable advantage for any brand.

And one that we’re certain will resonate.

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