Why empathy should be more than just a research method.

In the technology driven world of today, we have stopped appreciating the eminence of human interaction. We hide behind our virtual interfaces, to avoid even the wee bit of uncontroversial chatter. Heart to heart conversations about life do not seem to make their way into anyone’s lives. A person is assessed to be weaker if they were to have a higher emotional quotient. Truth be told, it is making humans callous and neglecting of the underlying problem of the adverse effects, this can have. I strongly believe, that, technology should never stand as a barrier to human ingenuity, and rather sustain it.

Being involved in world of user experience design, I hear a lot of buzzwords thrown around. ‘User centric design’ and ‘empathy-driven design’ are used on a daily basis in a designer’s life. Empathy is the capacity to share the feelings of another with an unbiased mind. UX designers are plagued by this coin term, and often try to ‘empathise’ with the user in the research process. While this might be all hunky-dory for the few minutes of the interviews, are we really being empathetic to our users?

We often forget that the human brain is complex in nature. Although, we as designers, have gotten used to the processes of ethnographic research, observations and analysis, we still miss out on many of the user needs. This is due to the fact, that the user, almost always, has a conflicting need. And we fail to understand this, owing to the lack of our empathy.

It is important to understand that a user not only takes decisions logically all the time, but also with instinct. What the user says about a situation and what they actually end up doing, can be two separate things. Feelings play a very significant part in the process of making commitments, which often gets overlooked. Understanding the physical and mental state of the user makes it easier to recognise the emotional triggers. Empathising with someone cannot only stir up while designing. It cannot just be added to your design at the end. It’s a path of life.

Empathising with someone you do not want to empathise with, by setting aside your own point of view can be challenging. Having conversations, instead of conducting interviews, not only while researching, but also in life, can help with what a lot of us, seem to have forgotten.

“How do we recognise if we are doing good?”

The power of affection is frequently underestimated. Communicating with users is much more than words. Being compassionate can help you see between the lines. It will help you see the world through multiple viewpoints. While all this will help in your personal development, it has a lot of upsides from the professional point of view too. Being able to predict the actions of users and potential clients, it can help with business planning. Convincing and motivating people can be of great value to the sales and marketing team. Designers can use the data to bring about changes to their solutions.You can design for people only when you know them. While, ‘getting in the mind of a user’ is important, ‘knowing the heart’ might help too.