Why you should develop empathy for your users

As a project initiator or designer, it’s natural to assume that the people using your product or service think like you. UX methodology and the empathy that it creates can help you avoid this pitfall, which can have unfortunate consequences.

The false-consensus effect, or why “I am not the user” should be your mantra

We have a natural tendency to assume that most people think and act like us. This quirk of the human mind, called the false-consensus effect, is a cognitive bias that was first identified by social psychologists in 1977.

When it comes to product development, it’s normal to assume that users’ needs, beliefs, and decisions will resemble our own. As a designer, engineer, developer, or project manager, you need to be mindful of this fallacy and work to overcome it.

How do you see things from the user’s perspective?

The key to overcoming the false-consensus effect and designing products that are truly user-centric is to gather information directly from the user, which is what the UX (User eXperience) approach is all about. Beyond collecting data straight from the source, qualitative research methods can also help the design team empathize with the user.

This kind of approach works well for designing all kinds of solutions, from consumer products to complex computer systems and medical devices — as long as they are used by humans!

What is empathy, exactly?

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to see what they see, and feel their emotions, needs, and motivations.

Unlike sympathy, which involves acknowledging the other person’s emotions, empathy is deeper and more complex, since it also involves making an effort to understand and share those feelings. Practicing empathy during the design process translates into creating solutions that meet users’ real needs, as well as higher-quality products and systems.

How do you actually go about developing empathy for the user?

Empathy can be developed through qualitative research methods, such as interviews, contextual inquiry, and usability testing. You need to hear the person you are designing a solution for in order to understand their needs, and see their actual behavior.

For example, before designing a surgical medical device, you should take the time to interview doctors, nurses, and maintenance technicians. Learn about their motivations, the challenges they face, their learning styles, the use environment, and more.

How can you spread that empathy to the team?

A UX specialist will immerse themselves in the user’s experience by being in direct contact with them. To share this empathy with all the design team members, they will distill the information that they collected into personas or experience maps.

In the previous example of the medical device, there would be three personas: the doctor, the nurse, and the technician. These visuals and schematics are design tools that will be referred back to throughout the project to make user-centric decisions.

User Research

Design Tools

Another particularly effective way to build empathy is to have stakeholders watch recordings of interviews and usability tests. Seeing is believing (and feeling!)

Empathy is for everyone!

Fortunately, all of us are innately empathetic. The key to harnessing your ability to empathize is to gain exposure to other people’s experiences. Our UX specialists can help you adopt an empathetic approach and provide the best possible user experience.

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