What is Digital Empathy and how can we evoke it

Angel Maldonado
Oct 24, 2017 · 4 min read

How can eCommerce tools connect with the Human Being behind the Data?

Many words have been written on personalisation. There are plenty of software products around profiling through Data. However, these tools provide little and in many cases no service when it comes to connect to our emotional drive.

Previous purchases, location or brand affinities, might tell something about the User and yet: Do these signals tell anything about our Human Nature?

I can hardly consider that Analyst Research Publications about Personalisation make any mark on the subject of how Online Stores can connect to the Human Being behind the Data.

Nevertheless, I believe in the concept of Digital Empathy; in providing elements beyond the Data that can evoke a sense of connection from the tool to the User.

Through the following Principles, I will try to argument that Digital Empathy can indeed be evoked:

Digital Empathy through Expressive Design

Our Brain treats and reacts differently to objects than faces. When we confront a face we engage in communication while objects (i.e. an interface) don’t trigger this intrinsic Human need.

There are, however, some objects that can trigger our facial processing unit; The Greebles.

The Greebles

It has been demonstrated that The Greebles (an invented category of novel objects by Robert Abelson) can be used as stimuli to trigger the processing of these objects as faces.

If some objects can cause such effect, could some elements of User Interfacing also trigger similar effects?

Motion in iOs 11

What if these elements contain re-shaping, expansions, contractions, flip overs or motions?

Instant-Motion effect on Lovelybikes by EmpathyBroker Universal UI: Layer
Instant-Motion effect on SohoHome Mobile Version by EmpathyBroker Universal UI: Layer

These design elements can also be made to react (visually be distorted to reflect User’s actions) and therefore extending this concept from mere motion to responsive expressions.

Digital Empathy through Anticipation

Here some examples of the level of anticipation that can also evoke Digital Empathy:

  • Automatic creation of Synonyms: Through learning from other user interactions within the language and domain, synonyms can be automatically created, kept or eliminated.
Query analysis for Synonym correlation used in EmpathyBroker Synonymize. Source ImagineYourData.com
Second and third queries analysis for Synonym correlation also used in EmpathyBroker Synonymyze. Source ImagineYourData.com
  • Bespoke auto-completes: Whose functioning is dictated by the specific Search Patterns of the Store (i.e. whether Brands, Categories or SKUs) behave in certain ways. Anticipating that the User is aiming for a SKU type of query does deliver another element of Digital Empathy as the sample below demonstrates:
Zara.com Bespoke auto-complete by EmpathyBroker detecting SKU numbers.

Digital Empathy through Transparency by Design

The principle of Transparency by Design provides also another powerful tool to evoke Digital Empathy.

As more complex profiling processes intervene to calculate what the User sees, showing information about the involved logic, rightly feeds the perception of fairness and honesty.

Showing to the User what you know about them, not only complies with GDPR within the reality of eCommerce, but also empowers the user with a sense of control and trust which in turn triggers loyalty.

Universal UI Layer by EmpathyBroker exposing to users why they see results.


We hold the ability to express our emotions through a set of universally-understood gestures and expressions. From these abilities communication and empathy are sourced.

The flat-land of an online store can easily frustrate us and yet, it can be broken by introducing Expressive Design, Anticipation and Transparency.

Adding Digital Empathy means humanising User Interfaces and Software tools in ways that user’s emotional nature can be empathized upon.


Helping brands provide irresistible search. Pairing software with interfaces to combine function and beauty in one. From mere results to meaningful relations and engaging interactions.

Angel Maldonado

Written by

Founder Empathy.co


Helping brands provide irresistible search. Pairing software with interfaces to combine function and beauty in one. From mere results to meaningful relations and engaging interactions.

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