How to Build Empathy as a UX Designer in 5 Simple Steps
1) Write Down What You Think
Get it down on paper (you were going to just do it anyway.)
List all the assumptions, do a brain dump and take your best guess at the issues and pass at quick-fix solutions.
Go for the Worst Idea Possible — think of it as the Bad Design Approach — or indulging in “Me-Search” instead of “Research”.
This is human behavior — exactly what clients will do.
Now you have a frame of reference on how others are going to start solving the problem for you.
2) Talk to Customer Service
Even better, get on the front line.
Answer the phone, help with online chat support or engage directly in person.
Now, after your shift, do a brain dump of your more informed guess on improving the product, increasing the rating or adding value for customers.
3) Go See For Yourself
Capture your experience and that of others.
Go on the experience. Immerse yourself, take pictures of others and watch your friends and family (This is Contextual Inquiry)
Live as a User, Guest or Consumer would: switch devices, reduce your data plan, take the bus there or coordinate a group.
Immediately after your immersion, write a journal with words, observations, snapshots and thoughts. (I once did a 100 page google doc after visiting a certain theme park.)
Now, craft a next iteration of the issues you witnessed and potential solutions or avenues to explore.
4) Go Experience the Competition
Do the exact same with a competing product.
Take photos, watch others, record your observations, write up a journal…
What did the competition do better? What does your product or service do well? Write it down.
5) Define the Problem
Gather up any business intelligence, prior research and other analysis.
Now that you have made your own (usually incorrect) guesses and assumptions, you have personal experience, research and raw data to compare and contrast.
Go back and see if your assumptions were correct at each step.
Each difference is a place where you have developed a deeper appreciation and empathy for the User’s Journey.
This is Design
A tool for framing the problem.
You have now developed empathy and much more:
- Created a SWOT (Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunity and Threat) Analysis
- Conducted an internal process review
- Broke any habit of jumping to a solution without understanding the need.
And best of all… you have a story.
A logical and backed up story of why initial impulses may not work and how anecdotal, personal and data driven viewpoints taken together can inform a path forward.