The UX Dilemma: The Misuse of Empathy

“What’s more important than process is mindset. And when it comes to design, that mindset is having empathy for and understanding your users, and creating something great for them.”
– Peter Merholz

It seems that empathy has degraded to just a buzzword in design circles. It has become synonymous with try to create engaging experiences that are based on what a designer THINKS about the what user thinks. I refer to it as the “sure, I know about the manure market, I’ve seen a corn field!” approach.

“Use empathy, think like your user”
“Understand how your user feels when pushing this button by using empathy” “Empathy is keeping the user in mind during every step of design”

It’s a gross over simplification. Empathy is an interaction, a process towards understanding, and it can’t be done without the user. Below are 3 ideas/concepts that are important to keep in mind when designing for the user.

1. Drop the Ego

Designers spend days crafting solutions that are beautiful and practical; they express their years of training and experience to create art. It becomes natural for the designer’s (read: artist) ego to influence their work. In many ways, they are creating something from nothing, giving birth of an idea into a finished work. They have pride for what they have created.

UX designers must be different. They can’t take any ownership of the design as it belongs solely to the end user. Their experience is the only one that matters and may or may not reflect the ambition of the designer. When designing for UX, ego needs to take a back seat.

2. Have Respect

A user is not just an element that makes choices to lead to conversions. They are (surprise, surprise) people that make choices based on their past experiences, say one thing and do another, and make choices that they don’t even understand. This is why using multiple research methods to understand your user is so important. Unfortunately, it isn’t as simple as talking to a few people that may use the product or sending out a survey.

Proper use of time tested research methods can solve your dilemma and provide the hard data to make the correct decision instead of relying on intuition. The Nielson Norman Group offers information on the importance of using the traditional and more experimental research methods. These methods will be able to gauge your users based on a number of criterion that will give you insights into how they make their choices.

Respecting the user is fundamental to UX design. Acknowledging the need for research is a first step to truly understanding what is necessary to create a great experience for every user.

3. Test (and test again)

Even though this is technically a research method, I think it warrants having it’s own section. Being able to properly assess the success rate of a design choice is a powerful, and at times, surprising way to see if you achieved your goals. A/B Testing provides sound data that shows you exactly what is working and what is not. Using this information allows you to continuously tweak the experience of the user to increase conversions based on real data and not intuition.

For example:

California Closets (source: WhichTestWon) wanted to increase their conversions and constructed two well designed pages to test against one another.

Version A

Version A had a singular relevant photo and a short contact form. It provided snappy content overlaying the image and a small amount of information about the product and a short testimonial.

Version B

Version B featured a video center-piece that clearly defined the product and fostered an understanding of the process. This experience has become more popular and is utilized heavily in most media experiences on popular websites.

Both of these are designed well, but the results surprised everyone. Version A resulted in 439% more leads than Version B. People must have felt more confident in entering their information on a page that was very direct and created an experience of confidence. California Closets knew their users well enough to doubt their own final design and invested in A/B testing. What they learned about their users drove them to more conversions.

Simply Put

Successful UX designers know that using empathy is a complicated task. But it simply isn’t possibility without research, testing, and a humble attitude towards design. Want to create the next great UX design? It’s simple and complicated at the same time. Just get to know the user.

Authored by:
Joshua Yuhas, Tinypint