How to foster a culture of empathy in your company.

Luis Queral
Nov 17, 2016 · 3 min read

By Luis Queral, Sam Gray, and Orr Shtuhl

Like many companies of our ilk, we have an open office plan. Sure, it makes room for the requisite ping-pong table, but we also like to think that this layout represents our collaborative nature. No one has an office, and we all do our work next to one another, even our founder.

Despite this openness, we still do specialize. Our designers, developers, and project managers each have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses. And while we don’t expect anyone to whip up a usability test, a project plan, or a JS function with equal aplomb, we still try to keep a wide perspective and be as empathetic as possible.

With that goal in mind, we thought we’d test ourselves on how just how empathetic we really were. Which led us to…

Not an actual office photo

Family Feud

In weekly staff meeting, the UX team quizzed the company on two things:

1. A UX designer’s goals

2. A UX designer’s day-to-day tasks

We had our own answers, of course, but in hearing what the rest of the company said, we hoped to learn about what they expect from the UX team, and how they might channel us when we’re not around.

After hearing the group’s ideas, we revealed our answers, Family Feud-style.

Survey Says!

We figured that the rest of the company would have a pretty solid idea of what our tasks were. We expected that we’d shed light on obscure aspects of the job and leave everyone with a better understanding of what it is we actually do.

What we didn’t expect was that our colleagues’ description of being a UX designer was actually much more detailed and nuanced than our own list.

Where we took pains to distill our goals to the essentials (“Make it usable,” “Make it useful”), our co-workers elaborated on the finer points of product strategy and the philosophy of user-centered design.

For example, here are some responses we heard:

“Challenge clients to think about content hierarchy”

“Learn something new about the audience — hone in on what they really want”

“Make it as easy as possible for the user to do what the client wants them to do”

Better yet, some people volunteered personal anecdotes about seeing this in action with particular projects or clients. (Some used the opportunity to air usability gripes with their DVR interface.)

The UX process, as it turned out, affects not just the project but the people that we worked with every single day.

Building in Empathy

We went into the exercise trying to teach empathy, but we realized that thinking about each others’ roles is already built into our collaborative process. This empathy is reinforced through small but crucial dependencies.

For instance, project managers might have to explain what wireframes are to a client, or maybe even why UX is important. Visual designers use the content hierarchy we define in our wireframes and sitemaps to inform an overall aesthetic and visual experience. Our developers use our content models to inform how the CMS and databases will be architected.

This co-dependency results in a closely knit ecosystem that forces us to think about each other’s role in the process. We knew we were all in it together, but it felt good to affirm this with a little quiz.

Next, we’ll have the other departments run their own Family Feuds. We’re excited to see what they turn up.

Blenderbox

We are an interactive design agency based in Brooklyn, New York. We do Good Work for Good Causes.

Thanks to Sam Gray and Jason Jeffries

Luis Queral

Written by

Product Designer at Postlight - http://luisquer.al

Blenderbox

We are an interactive design agency based in Brooklyn, New York. We do Good Work for Good Causes.

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