Design and Empathy: A Human-Centered Approach

March 12, 2017 | Published by | Leave your thoughts

Empathy is defined as the ability to “feel along with” another person. It is to “walk a mile in another person’s shoes,” and it is a skill that needs cultivating if we are going to design interfaces and applications that become part of our users’ everyday life. To do this is to step out of our collective bubbles and into the heads of the people for whom we are designing. It takes a good amount of effort, but is always well worth it.

One way we do this is to continually ask “why” people do the things they do. We avoid assuming incorrectly in our research when we return often to the question “why.” If we are engaged in an interview or if we are leading a discussion group, to ask the “why” questions forces us out of our own reasoning and avoids jumping to premature conclusions.

Another way is to place our data into the context of someone’s story. Humans tend to be motivated by self-interest. They use an application or website for a reason that meets a felt need. It is personal — part of a larger story which includes a person’s emotions and values. As we listen for the stories our users tell us, we learn how they use the applications we are designing and in what context. Is it always on a mobile smartphone? Or is it more likely to be at the desktop — or in a store kiosk or some other context? Listen for the story.

We also develop empathy in the design of applications and products by placing the user first in our decision-making. We write up personas and biographical sketches along with narratives that we compare our work against throughout the process of development. We advocate for good human factors and usability.

If we have listened well, we will be able to construct meaningful narratives which are realistic and meaningful to the development team.

In future posts, I will be writing more on empathy in design, especially from the point-of-view of my past work in helping people in times of crisis and personal change. There are many lessons we can learn from some of these perspectives which can make all the difference in whether we have truly designed for the human experience, or missed it.

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This post was written by jcwretlind

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