Empathy as a buzzword

I recently read an article on empathy’s role in UX design which started:

Empathy is nearing played-out-buzzword status: overused and overhyped and caricatured to the point where any real nuance or subtlety is hard to come by. Use of the word empathy these days is almost as likely to generate a round of eyerolls as it is to inspire compassion. Has it joined the ranks of ideas like “disruption” and “innovation”? Perhaps.

I don’t disagree with the statement, or think it’s in any way misguided. The statement just made me think about how these buzzwords come to fruition, and then why they become “played out”.

My feeling is that the more these words are introduced to our UX practices, and the more they become commonplace, the more we actually practice what they represent.

As they near the zenith of their usage, they become something of a cliche, not because we feel they’re worthless, but because they’ve become an intrinsic part of our process.

The words feel overused because we all know what they mean and represent, therefore everyone gets quickly tired of hearing them.

We already practice empathy, it’s already becoming embedded within our problem solving so we don’t need to mention it so much anymore.


In the same way we’re all on the same page when it comes to the value of “the story”, how we can “disrupt” or how we should be striving to “innovate” — we’re also all aware that “empathy” is an important trait to have when problem solving.

Not necessarily the focus of what we do as UX-ers, but certainly one of the elements in the mix.

Buzzword for now, it may remain — but my assumption is that over the next year or so, it’ll become so crucial to UX, that it’s apparent over-saturation will transform it into an expected component of the practice.