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Are you a Sympathetic or an Empathic Designer?

As UX designers, it’s always important to create something that will solve a user’s problem while also fulfilling their needs. Well, there’s always space for self-creativity and expression but it’s not where the designer should emphasize. The main focus of a designer is to understand the needs and wants of the user which means building empathy for people who use the product and services.



Many teams unknowingly practice sympathy instead of empathy which results in confusion and inability to deliver solutions for real human needs. If designers fail to have a connection with the users, it will affect the progress of the project.


This article helps you to check on your UX practices and know if you are a sympathetic or empathic designer.


The Sympathetic Designer



In UX, if you are a sympathetic designer, you would acknowledge what your users are going through- be it a difficult situation, task or journey but would fail to put yourself in their shoes and feel their agony or annoyance.


For example, if designing an accessible website for the people who are visually challenged, you may end up expressing sympathy by acknowledging their potential challenges.


The Empathetic Designer



But if an Empathetic designer in UX, it enables to immediately identify users discontentment and also their limitation, expectations, hopes, and goals. An empathetic approach allows the designer to dig deep into the users understanding and create solutions that improve the convenience of the users by removing unnecessary pain and friction.


For example, instead of just designing an accessible website, practice empathy by using a screen reader, blindfolded, in order to complete a task on your own website.

It’s good to have some sympathy rather than none, as for the users having limited technical skills instead of despising them. But the goal of design is not to be nice to the users but to empower them. This is why instead of sending a huge sorry message to why an error occurred, it’s better to suggest solutions and allow users to quickly correct them and not disturb the user’s workflow.



How to practice Empathy in UX?


  • Use Qualitative Research Methods



Practicing empathy in UX means doing qualitative user research. Human behavior is rarely based on the patterns of numerical logic and reason, it’s dependent more on qualitative methods such as interviews, cognitive mapping, and dairy studies which allow us to understand user behavior, motivation, and concerns.


Remember to ask open-ended questions instead of yes-no type. For example, “What makes you happy?” rather than “Are you happy?”

Be aware to keep your assumptions aside and conduct empathic research.


  • Observe research sessions and real-time users.



Seeing is believing but interacting with users is even more powerful. Inviting all the team members to observe during a research session intensifies the potential of empathy.


But before inviting them, make sure you devote some time preaching about the UX research within your organization so that everyone can understand what you can accomplish that solvers a real user need in the assigned time.

Keep posting recordings from the user sessions in case if anyone cannot observe them live.


  • Make an Empathy Map



Empathy map basically collaborates with user's emotions, hopes, and fears so that the teams can use it for deeper insight into their customers much like user persona. It helps to recognize the gaps in a designer’s knowledge and helps to identify the type of research needed to bridge it.


Empathy is a complicated skill but following an empathy map, surfaces the truth throughout the project and helps others to become more empathic towards the users clearing all the bias and unfounded assumptions.


  • Have Diverse Team for Diverse Users



This helps you to evaluate your assumptions and research plan allowing you to explore all the potential opportunities for improvement with actual end-users. Imagine having a team where everyone is male, under 30, and all with just tech background. Well, this will result in creating designs that will favor only that particular user group ( that is under 30 and is tech enthusiast ).


Having a team with members belonging to a variety of backgrounds and demographics helps to go wide on experiences, skills, and altitudes thus leading into more evolved designs. This cant guarantee empathy for the users but surely leads in the right direction.



Empathy not only challenges our assumptions but introduces us to focus and clarity. As UX professionals, practicing Empathy is essential to bridge our greatest asset i.e design with the user’s mind.

If you like this article or find it useful, share it, and explore what are design mistakes that UX professionals still make.


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