There is perhaps nothing that supports user experience design the way empathy does. Without enough clues, it is as good as shooting in the dark as to what exactly your users are looking for or what needs to be created. It is no wonder that we see statistics like 79% of people who don’t like what they find on a site will abandon it and look for another site
Empathy allows the designer to follow the footsteps in user journey and get a better understanding of what they like or dislike about your creations. However, the key here is to focus on their emotions and the thought process to better align empathy with user experience design.
Believe it or not, emotions can be very helpful in influencing the user’s decision-making process. This, in turn, can help meet online business goals and user expectations. The ability to understand the motive that shapes their decision is the key to designing better products.
User experience design is a thin line of grey in the black and white domain. It requires a much deeper insight into user experience and their expectations derived from previous analytics.
In this context, empathy emerges as one of the most useful elements in coming up with suitable experience design. To make products that add real value, it helps to get an in-depth understanding of why users like the products and why they use them and prefer them over others.
Simply put, user experience design is a skill that requires the designer to take the user journey and walk a mile in their shoes. This helps them to genuinely empathize with their expectations.
The best way to understand the importance of emotions in user interaction is to start with advertising, the industry that literally thrives on emotions.
The ad world uses trust, compassion, warmth, and other such innate feelings to get the brand message out to people who can relate with its ethos.
We have often seen companies that are committed to their customer journey perform better than anyone else in the business. They sell more, have a legion of loyal customers, and have a much better image that clearly mirrors who they are.
It is safe to assume that these companies didn’t reach where they are by trial and error. They put a lot of thought and care into building their brand image and products aligned with the user experience.
They have designated creative teams that spend a considerable amount of time visualizing how their products, ideas, and decisions will impact their customers.
A business that has user experience design deeply rooted in their scheme of things is the one that thrives and sustains the growing competition.
With the help of empathy, designers are able to put themselves on the other side of the wall. They can create more positive experiences, not just for the customer, but for the end user as well.
Empathy plays an elemental role in answering why users use one product. However, knowing how users are interacting with the product allow designers to satisfy their needs more accurately and with better precision.
This knowledge also helps in introducing further product improvements and even concentrate on those features in the marketing phase.
Empathy alone can provide valuable information that can be the driving force behind innovative products and intuitive designs.
When you empathize with your user journeys, it allows you to set your assumptions aside and gain an unexpected understanding of their expectations.
Empathy can be characterized into three types:
In case of user experience design, it is the cognitive empathy that one needs to master in order to correctly anticipate user needs. For a UX professional, being one with their target users.
Here are some of the things you can do to develop the quality of cognitive empathy:
When you empathize with your users, the idea is to get as close to their expectations as possible. This lets you get a clearer understanding of their needs. To achieve this insight, it is important to set all the assumptions aside.
There are many reasons why you should place empathy at the heart of design thinking. Experts say that when we develop our empathic potential, we are also enhancing our ability to execute information more comprehensively.
Empathy can be very helpful in prioritizing and supporting design decisions.
Let us look at how you can maximize user empathy in design thinking process.
— Understand your Users
Before you start the design thinking process, it is important to understand who you want to empathize with. Knowing your target users can help generate appropriate solutions for their problems.
UX professionals can employ variety of tools, such as interviews, user research or market research, to gain insight about their target audience.
The target audience is essentially categorized into two types of users:
The best way to understand your end user is by focusing on extreme users as they are able to pinpoint the issues in the initial stages of adoption. These problems may not surface if you focused only on mainstream users.
When you engage with extreme users, you will be amazed by their new outlook regarding the product. You may also get inspired by their unique methods to override the system.
Needless to say, it is also crucial to take the problems of mainstream users into consideration as well, and not just centre your attention on extreme users.
— User Engagement
Before you start engaging with the users, it is important to brainstorm ideas with your team and frame questions before you start interviewing them. Direct interviews are the best way to engage your users in their natural environment.
Actively listening and responding develops the basis of mutual understanding and trust which should form the core of your interviewing process.
— Don’t Ask Too Much
While it is important to quiz your target users, too many questions can seem off-putting. This is where brainstorming ideas can be a good practice. You should determine what exactly you need to gain from the interviews.
Framing your questions beforehand can help you channel the conversation in right direction. Open-ended provocative questions will encourage users to share their experiences with the product.
— Listen Intently
Give visual cues like nodding to confirm that you are listening. Keep your body language aligned as you ask questions. Use polite language and eye contact to engage your users. Use encouraging tone to prompt and inspire them to share more.
— Use mirroring technique
Mirroring technique means genuinely reflecting on what the user is saying or thinking. Just repeating their answers alone will not make the cut. With appropriate reflection, you can bring clarity and understanding of the user’s subjective world.
Conducting interviews is one way to go about it. However, asking them to share photos, videos and live journals of their activities can also be a treasure trove of first-hand information.
This is especially useful in times when you have a limited budget as a user experience professional.
Having budget constraints can limit your reach and prevent you from interacting directly with the users or conduct comprehensive background research. This is when you can use indirect methods to empathize with the users.
Live journals, photos, videos etc. are good ways to collect data. However, they require in-depth analysis and interpretation skills which may not always be fool proof.
Another technique is to imagine yourself into the user’s shoes to get a better understanding of the situation. When you experience their situation first hand, it can be extremely helpful in understanding the problems they face.
You can also set up a real-time environment to generate the same feelings and thoughts associated with the product use, if they were to be in the same situation.
Analogies are helpful in not just gaining comprehensive insight, but can also prove beneficial in developing new understandings.
You can compare and innovate different solutions that may not essentially occur to you when you are working within a limited environment of your domain.
Crafting user-centric experience needs a lot of thought, time, and consideration of user empathy.
A product developed on the basis of these factors is high quality and yields great results.
Something that has been designed specifically to meet user needs will leave the customers happy and satisfied.
The best way to reassure your users that you actually care and don’t just say it as a marketing gimmick is by genuinely understanding their requirements. This will help you in incorporating it into the design to meet their expectations.
About the Author
Vinumon S, Founder & Managing Director, Thence (WinkTales)
Vinumon holds a PGDM from IIM Calcutta and has over 10 years of experience spanning Business Development, Finance, Corporate Strategy & Operations. He loves to write on Experience design, leadership and business streamlining.