Empathy in UX Design

Gain a better understanding of your users with empathic design.

Empathic design is the process of developing an understanding of users, not just their overt needs, but of their constraints, practices, problem-solving approaches, contexts, and the interrelations between people as a whole.

Nick Kellingly

Empathy in ux design sounds good on paper. Get into the mind of your user, discover new product use-cases, align with new business goals or bridge into a new target market. Great, but what does the actual Empathic Design Process look like?

User Testing Done Differently

Market research and user research sound like they could be the same thing but the outcomes are notably different.

How do you get into the minds of your user if you aren’t right beside them when they’re experiencing your product? Empathic Design puts an emphasis on side-by-side testing and qualitative data collection that traditional market research can overlook.

Empathic design techniques can yield at least five types of information that cannot be gathered through traditional marketing or product research.

Dorothy Leonard & Jeffrey F. Rayport

Leonard and Rayport explain those five types of information and why they’re important to document during your research and user testing.

Triggers of Use: What were the circumstances that brought the user to your product?

Interactions with the User’s Environment: How does your product fit into the user’s already established software systems, services or routines?

User Customization: Are your users customizing your product to suit their own needs or challenges?

Intangible Attributes of the Product: What are some peripheral applications of your product?

Unarticulated User Needs: Do you see your user struggling with a task? How could a redesign help to alleviate the problem?

California-based design firm GVO recognized the emotional appeal of pull-on diapers to parents and toddlers, who saw them as a step toward grownup dress. Diapers were clothing, the observers realized, and had highly symbolic as well as functional meaning. Huggies Pull-Ups were rolled out nationally in 1991, and by the time competitors caught on, the company was selling $400 million worth of the product annually.

Leonard & Rayport

The Process

Now that we know why we need empathic design, Leonard and Rayport tell us how the process works

Observe: List what use-cases and interactions you’re observing before you start. What antecedents are interesting to document?

Capture Data: Record your findings as empathic design is more about qualitative data than asking questions.

Reflect and Analyze Findings: Meet with your team to discuss findings and get a consensus.

Brainstorm for Solutions: What problems or new opportunities arose during testing?

Develop Prototypes of Possible Solutions: Create a constant loop of testing and prototyping to get the best possible results.

Testing should be done with members of a multi-disciplinary team to gain insight on all facets of your product and how users are navigating their way through it. Once research has finished, meet with your team to discuss the findings and start brainstorming solutions.

It’s easy to get caught up in a beautiful design or brilliant code. But if it’s created without understanding your user you risk creating something they don’t want or need. Empathy takes practice, and should be part of your core mission in all your UX endeavors.

Jennifer Winter

The Outcome

Empathic UX Design is low-cost and should be implemented at all stages of the design process. It is easier to continuously iterate on concepts as you go then to try and change things when the project is nearly complete. Keeping empathy at the heart of your design will yield better engineered, more intuitive products that consumers love using.

Sources Spark Innovation Through Empathic Design, Empathic Design: Is Empathy the UX Holy Grai?, Empathic Design: The Most Difficult Simple Approach to Successful Design, Empathy: The UX Pro’s Secret Weapon