From Design

Why empathy is a user experience designer's best weapon

Empathy is a powerful word and even a more powerful feeling. It is also a word that is becoming more and more popular in the vocabulary of product and user experience designers. But, why?

Before we get into why empathy is such an important concept when designing a product, it's vital to make it clear that this is only true when your focus is on what users need, instead of pushing products to the market.

What is empathy and why does it matter?

Empathy is the ability to put ourselves in someone else's shoes in their place.
To see things from the others perspective. It's to put biases and assumptions aside and try to truly understand the realities and problems of the situation, what others want, need and feel.

When it comes to product design, empathizing with the users means focusing on qualitative data instead of quantitative. Designers get qualitative data by observing the users.

Observe, question, engage.

When designers engage with the users, they can get information on how the users think, behave, feel, and what their values are. Most of the time, these kinds of things are not clear even for the users.
Questions like ** "how"** and ** "why"** are crucial to understanding users' behavior. Communication is vital to understand and empathize with users.
By doing this, designers can also uncover needs that haven't been previously met, or even identified, and this can lead to new solutions that have never been thought up.

User-Research

Empathy is the way to a more inclusive design
It's relatively easy to design for people who are in some way or capacity caught up with technology and interfaces. Those users are already fluent in the language that they need to speak to use a product.
Designing for someone that barely speaks or doesn't understand this language at all is an entirely different story. Even when designers don't have direct access to the target users, they get an idea of who they are, but they should **not make assumptions on the skill level that the users have.

Designers are usually not the average user of the product they are creating. That's why it is so important to create empathy with the user. Experiences and assumptions should be put aside and a beginner's mindset must be assumed. It's based on those experiences and assumptions that an understanding of the world is created. It impacts the capacity to empathize with users that are being observed.

Don't judge, don't assume, ask questions.

Empathize with low resources

There are times where engaging with users is not possible. Sometimes because it is a small project with budget constraints, amongst other possible reasons.

Nonetheless, it is crucial for designers in this situation to still empathize with the target users, even if they don't have access to the means necessary to observe users and conduct interviews.

Some things that anyone can do:

  • imagine what it's like to be in the user's environment and assume a beginner's mind.
  • do some research about the target user.
  • find reviews of similar products.

Of course, this is not ideal. However, if observing and interviewing users isn't an option, doing this is better than doing nothing to understand your target.

Raiffeisen Bank International app: a simple example

There are a lot of offers on the market regarding personal finance. There are some differences between money tracking apps, but they pretty much share the primary purpose: to help the users keep track of their spending habits. Users register their expenses by introducing the transactions and categorizing them. Some of the apps even allow users to connect the app to a bank account to facilitate and create a more automatic process.
These kinds of apps usually have categories like “Events” and “Clothing” while also allowing users to create their own categories.

While Designit was developing an intelligent banking experience for Raiffeisen Bank International, they conducted some user research and realized that users don’t think in categories but in contexts.

Raiffeisen Bank International app

Most bank apps don’t have an easy and intuitive way for users to see where they spend the money besides a long transaction list. Their solution was to create a space in the bank’s app called “Lenses” where users can easily see where they spend their money. The app automatically categorizes and groups the expenses in four groups “Little things”, “Money In”, “Money out” and “Cash Out”.

Creating an automated process that organizes expenses based on context allows users to get a clearer picture of their spending habits without any work from their part.

Without user research and understanding, they wouldn’t have the information about how users think about expenses. They would probably follow other money tracker apps and would not ultimately reach the users' needs and expectations.

Create empathy, do user-research

Allow me to mention a short disclaimer. It is impossible to get inside someone’s mind and that’s not the point.

Most of the time, a product or service is not designed for a handful of people yet for hundreds or thousands of users. When we think about this, completely understanding a person is not that helpful.

What is helpful is to understand a group of people. Sometimes more than one group, their capacities and needs. This is one of the reasons why empathy in design is important. We need to know the target we are designing for, but as a group and not an individual.

There are many approaches out there, like the human-centred design, empathic design or user-centred design. AtImaginary Cloud, we developed our own method, the Product Design Process, that allows us to tailor this process each project.

Empathy is a strong word in the field of digital product design, but the truth is that it all comes down to something that product and user experience designers have been advocating for some time now: user-research. It is through user-research that designers can create empathy for their users.

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