To have empathy in design is to not be judgmental. It means, let the user walk you through the problems faced, it means to actively listen and not react. It is the understanding you develop about your user by dropping to a neutral mind, having no presumptions.
In very simple words, to empathize is to CONNECT with the user.
Now, why is empathy important to a UXer while designing? The answer is, without connecting with your users you would fail to deliver an output that satisfies them.
If I have a friend who is very depressed and I need to do something to make her feel fine. What should I do? Should I figure the cause of her state without prior discussion with her? Should I decide what is best for her without her consent? Let’s say, I, without asking her, plan a trip because I feel that it would help her restart? Would she be okay? The answer is NO. Only because, I failed to understand what problem she is facing. I was not being a good LISTENER. I did all the above because I thought it was the right thing to do and that is exactly where I went wrong. Maybe she wanted me to just listen, respond and ask her about her problems. And that’s the catch in it, I never listened.
What we need to do is the exact opposite.
To empathize with a user is to remove the ‘I’ and the ‘Me’ from the conversation and replace it with a ‘You’- meaning the user that you’re conversing with.
So how exactly does a UX designer empathize and when does this whole process begin?
To be honest, you would connect with the user right from the persona phase to the User testing one. This whole process needs to be empathetic if you want the application to fully satisfy your end user. As we all know, a User Centric Design is the whole process of UX Design, UI Design and UI development. Empathy would be a major touch point of this process.
The iterative process we follow which is Prototyping, User testing – noting the problems during the testing phase and correcting them again for a new prototype can also be a part of the empathetic process as we are focusing on what problems did the user face to come up with better alternatives.
Let’s take a step by step journey to understand what all does a UXer need to do while empathizing with a user:
As I mentioned before, we all need to be Active Listeners to be empathetic. An active listener would be the one who hears the user out without any judgments. Tries to understand the problems without having presumptions of what they might be. Comes down to a neutral level and connects with the problems of the user. While designing an application, you would be dealing with humans just like you who deal with day to day issues. If you actively listen, you would relate to the issues that they might be facing and thus your design output would come out to be as fully focused as possible on your target audience’s needs, wants, frustrations and motivations.
Imagine being physically present with your user but mentally wandering somewhere else? Wouldn’t that create a hole in your research? To actively listen, you first need to be actively present- away from any and every distraction. As mentioned above, to get to a neutral level you need to fully focus on your user and be aware of what you’re asking them and what you’re listening to. May it be a user interview or jotting down points post user testing, your mind needs to be present in the moment without letting it waver any place else.
Have an Open mind:
While interviewing a user, you need to get rid of any pre-conceived notions about them or their problems. Only then can you get into their bubble and grasp what they tell you. Having an open mind is accepting the reviews given by your user and actively working on them. It is very tempting to put in your own judgments. But remember, you’re designing for the end user and not yourself.
To sum it up, for your application to generate revenue, you need to be headstrong and business minded BUT for it to work in the first place, you need to be empathetic.
A UX designer is the person who relates with the people of the world. Your say would be the one of utmost importance during a design input and thus it needs to be well backed up with a user’s mind. Ace this and you would be golden!