Let’s be honest, ‘empathy’ as a word is overused and over-hyped in the design space. Much like ‘disruption’ and ‘innovation’, perhaps. Even though we might see the concept of empathy as a little worn, this doesn’t mean it is insignificant or irrelevant — its very much alive. Although creativity and expression are important during the design process, this shouldn’t be the main focus. Rather, we need to be in the mindset of creating something that will solve users’ problems while also accomplishing their needs. Implementing empathy as a designer is vital for truly understanding the needs and wants of a user.
What even is empathy?
Empathy is usually described as “feeling what someone else feels” or “walking in someone else’s shoes”. But it’s more than this. There are two types of empathy; cognitive empathy — the understanding of another’s mental state and affective empathy — feeling and responding to another’s emotional state. I know this sounds like a psychology lesson, but bare with me. Designing with empathy is the method of better understanding the experience we’re trying to improve by thinking and feeling what someone else thinks. Put simply, empathy allows designers to understand users better.
When using empathy within our design process, we don’t just just simply think about our design audience, we weave empathy into the methodologies that we use. Instead of focusing on preferences and demographics during the design process, we should put the underlying reasoning, reactions and guiding principles at the forefront of the process. But what exactly can we do to develop empathy? Here at iNQ we suggest shadowing, empathy mapping, gamestorming and journey mapping to be the key activities for developing empathy. To successfully apply empathy to a solution, we can engage in generative making, collaging and collaborative sketching. Being an empathetic designer is considered to be a skill, but this skill can be developed.
How can I become an empathetic designer?
#1 Learn how to be a good listener
Understanding your users is fundamental, so you must listen to them closely to gain a deep understanding of them. Throughout each of iNQ’s design projects, we test with real users and validate our assumptions early, we allow multiple opportunities for user insight and feedback throughout the design process to ensure that we understand our user needs at every stage. Check out our design process below.
#2 Improve your observation skills
At iNQ we have access to a state of the art user testing lab where we study user behaviour using eye tracking and emotional response tools. We can observe the users of our digital products which provides data as to how people are using your website and can help to display any potential problem areas. Our specialist team of designers find the behavioural flow report super useful for seeing how users move from one page to another within any of our websites. By using this tool we can see if people are having any issues with navigating the site and whether or not their overall experience is positive.
#3 Research UX and stay on top of trends
UX design is constantly evolving, so make sure you stay on top of news and trends so you don’t fall behind. Check out our design process here, this will give you some great insight. Keep communicating with users to gain insights as to how they interact with your digital product. Here at iNQ HQ, we devise regular user testing focus groups, allowing us to gain a whole load of ideas for design improvement.
iNQ is a human centred agency that builds beautiful products. Check out our recent work here and visit our contact page if you would like to get in touch.