There’s a constant discussion in User Experience design about how important or not empathy is in designing the flow of experience a User will have when using a Product.
When we think of the word empathy, we often think about being in someone else’s shoes or experiencing the feelings that another person has.
Merriam Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner.” And this is how we’ve come to look at empathy as individuals and as pockets of societies – this, therefore, opens the door to a lot of debate about how empathy works in design – Do you have to understand a User’s feelings to design for them? Do you have to be acutely aware of the thoughts of a User and experience their feelings to be able to craft the flow? Isn’t this too much burden to place on a Designer?
Well, the answer is Yes and No. Empathy in Design should not be misconstrued with empathy in the raw emotional sense of it. The concept of empathy in UX Design has become essential because the detachment between designers and users when building products is potentially damaging to the user experience. UX Designers usually design in isolation which may be problematic considering that User Experience is a Functionality-driven work as opposed to being an art.
It’s easy to get caught up in an awesome design or fantastic code. But if it’s created without understanding your user you risk creating something they don’t want or need.
Claire Rackstraw in a discussion about how she moved from being a Nurse to being a UX Designer reiterates functionality in User Experience Design stating that “Regardless of your product, digital or otherwise, you should be aware that those using your services are not operating in a perfect testing environment. You need to find ways to familiarize yourself with and empathize with situations different to your own, and design with these situations in mind.”
She reminds us again that empathy is necessary because of Use Cases
“In the field of UX you often hear the phrase “you are not the user” which reminds us that as designers we can’t make any assumptions about the people that we’re designing for. To really empathize with users we must be prepared to learn about all of the factors that influence how they interact with and perceive the product or service we are creating for them.”
Empathy helps solve the problem of crafting experiences that Users cannot relate with or even navigate because their use cases were not taken into account when the Designer was mapping out the experience. A lot of people assume that users will approach and solve problems in the same way the designers and developers the product/solution approach it.
How do you then incorporate empathy into your UX Design process?
Engage with your users to see how they use your product or product similar to yours. One way to engage with your users directly is by conducting interviews with them in their own environment, so you can observe and take note of habits and mannerisms that you probably hadn’t thought of before.
With observation comes gathering/recording of data to give you insight into the actual flow and path that users take.
You should also use your analytics tool to record, measure and see decision-making patterns.
Behavior Flow report on Google Analytics helps you see how users move from one page to another on your website.
Tracking helps you know for a fact which specific actions users take while navigating and moving around on your website/app.
And Navigation Flow report helps you see where users initially came from in order to get into your website and where they go after accessing your first landing page.
Suggested: Data has a better idea.
The next step after gathering data is to analyze and infer from the data gotten. Analysing your data gives you the heads up about how you should be mapping your design decisions. New insights are garnered during this phase, as you discuss the behaviours/patterns observed and recorded – to identify and understand users needs.
Brainstorm and Design
At the brainstorming stage, you and your teammates come up with strategies that bring solutions to the Users needs as gathered before. These solutions are then tested by building prototypes.
Empathy is crucial to the UX process. Without it, work will be done in isolation and void of how exactly the User/Customer engages with your product and interface. If you think good, empathic User Experience is time-consuming or experience, then you look at the cost of bad User Experience to your bottom line.