How human-centred design can win the war for talent

Insights | 22 November, 2019

In a labour market dominated by growing process automation and uniform technological solutions, talented people capable of providing a unique differential value have become the most precious resource. Making them and their needs a pillar of corporate strategy is key to attracting and cultivating human capital.


It was 1997 when researchers at McKinsey & Company coined the term the war for talent, predicting a future in which the success of new companies would depend on their ability to attract, develop and retain talented employees – an asset that was already scarce at the time. 

More than 20 years later, that future has arrived, but the challenge has become more complex. While cutting-edge technology has optimised productivity and replaced routine tasks with artificial intelligence, most companies are lacking game changers that lead to significant breakthroughs. It’s no longer just about attracting talent, it’s about attracting the best talent: people, not data, are the new oil. 

Furthermore, competition is fierce, and demand is greater than supply. Globalisation has made the battle even tougher, as today everyone is fighting against everyone. In a recent conversation with a Studio Banana partner, a top manager at a global Swiss banking institution conceded that right now their biggest talent competitors were not other banks, but Google and Facebook. Nor is it easy to retain the talent already onboarded, making it difficult for companies to grow and function properly.

But that war can be won by considering a simple idea: if people are the most valuable resource, let’s put people first. The user-centric focus of Studio Banana relays on that very same concept – through a co-creation process carried out together with organisations, we are able to identify the needs of each specific workforce and to design and craft solutions that meet those needs, engaging not only new employees, but also the whole workforce of an organisation. 

As a result of a wide range of capabilities, including graphic thinking and multimedia and workplace design, we are able to impact on the different challenges of this war for talent, such as acquisition, transformation of culture and processes of organisations and knowledge management.

Visual communication triggers a lasting impact

We all live in the age of image. Many of our daily decisions are based on the thousands of pictures we process each day. Choosing a career is no exception. While there are a wide range of factors to consider when looking for a job, a powerful first impression can be key to tipping the scales one way or the other. And this contact is essentially visual: an advertisement, a social network feed, a website, a brochure. That’s why graphically transmitting the values and culture of a company is so relevant when it comes to building awareness.   

IE University, being one of the world’s leading higher education institutions, experiences the exciting challenge of attracting prospective students of more than 130 different nationalities. They approached us in order to create a distinctive visual identity that would redefine their communication strategy at all levels: print, digital, spatial and experiential. With an added difficulty: it had to target both students and parents as well as other strategic allies.

We then developed a coherent and dynamic visual system that we applied to all the materials used when raising interest among potential students. Brochures, events, apps… each of the moments capable of impacting and building attention were covered with the same idea, so that the IEU values were clear at all times. Besides, two distinct tones of voice were used, so that all target audiences would receive the message that speaks to them, increasing interest and boosting conversions.

Great spaces provoke great transformations

Beyond being simply the place to actually get work done, workplaces have a fundamental role in defining a company’s culture and helping its employees see themselves reflected in it. They must be designed in such a way that the workforce feels engaged to the point of perceiving the place as a second home, a place to go and enjoy. 

When McCann Worldgroup, a global leader in the advertising industry, decided to move out of its former headquarters in Madrid, it was not simply looking for a larger space for its more than 500 collaborators, but was committed to transforming its work culture and internal relationships, strengthening bonds with its employees.

As a result, we created a new type of workplace akin to a village. In consequence we transformed its previous hierarchical layout into a space open to collaboration between individuals and departments, in order to foster creativity and inspiration. To achieve this, we spent several weeks working with their staff, analysing their workflows and understanding their requirements.

Combining the fluid semi-open space with a series of huts distributed throughout that hosts shared facilities, this new work environment has proven to allow business growth, increase productivity and improve the well-being of McCann employees, as they now feel that space as their own.

With a century-long legacy in the real estate industry as developers, builders and managers, Losinger Marazzi entrusted us with the design of a space that would demonstrate its strengths to potential clients, while at the same time transforming their identity from builders into co-creators of built environments.

For the design of this new home in the Oassis neighbourhood in the city of Crissier, in the Lausanne region, we established an online community of employee ambassadors who would gather the needs of each department, involving the staff along the process. This allowed us to evaluate their satisfaction before and after the move to their new work environment. It also gave us the opportunity to encourage the workforce to take an active role in the workplace transformation process, promoting an evolution in the way they conceive their own projects. 

To engage workers with the company’s identity and values, the space itself was designed so that construction elements, such as exposed bricks and wooden slats, were visible. This spatial storytelling has helped Losinger Marazzi to consolidate its value proposition and successfully transmit it to its employees as well as to visitors and collaborators, who see the building as an extension of the company’s portfolio.

Treat knowledge as a primary source

Acquiring talent is a big step, but it’s by no means the end of the journey. To truly feel part of a company, people need to sense that their knowledge is adding value to the organisation, so manage that knowledge in a proper way is vital to fueling the engagement of the workforce and winning the war for talent. Therefore, as the way we work evolves from a systematized routine to more collaborative and iterative processes where knowledge is developed and shared in the form of a network, it is necessary for this new “cloud of content” to be able to move in space along with the people who need it at all times. As if it were water, this cloud must accompany the collaborators and ‘hydrate’ knowledge in each of the new workspaces. 

At their London headquarters, the multinational consulting firm Ernst & Young needed a space where employees, clients and partners could all work together and share information in order to find answers to their complex problems.

More than a simple physical space, this capability centre – named as Wavespace Experience Centre – also required us to design user experiences and work methodologies in order to present ideas in a clear and accessible way. We translated that vision into a modular and flexible space, where cutting-edge technology and digital tools were tailored to analyse and visualise data and promote collaboration not only within the space, but also across the different global locations of the firm.

A new way to take advantage of and share insights that since its implementation has had a high demand within EY, demonstrating its usefulness when optimising knowledge management and making the workforce realise the added value of its know-how.

Developing a corporate culture capable of engaging people and creating bonds with them is not a one-time occurrence, but it is inevitable if you want to lead the war for talent. Whether through a unique visual identity, a workplace such as a second home or the creation of bespoke technology, all efforts must be directed towards a single goal: to put people at the centre. That’s always going to be the best, and for once peaceful, weapon.

To learn more about how human-centred design can win the war for talent, follow Studio Banana on LinkedIn.

* Photography: Rubén P. Bescos for STUDIO BANANA.