A Designer’s Path to Empathy: My First Four Steps

Geunbae "GB" Lee
Aug 28, 2019 · 7 min read
Illustration: In-Product Brand for Business Team, Facebook, Inc.

This is the second of two articles by Facebook Ads Product Designer Geunbae “GB” Lee about how he uses empathy to foster goodwill between product-design teams and businesses. Read the first article.


When I started my role on the Ads team at Facebook, I quickly realized that I could not do my best work in a bubble. In order to do my job well, I would need to better understand and learn more deeply about the people who use our products. Unlike designing for a consumer-facing products, designing for businesses is more challenging; I needed a way to get inside the heads of the most savvy advertising pros who use our product. Ultimately, deciding to build empathy with the marketers who use our products was not magic, it was simply my way in. It did require effort, energy, and curiosity. But really, who doesn’t like to be listened to?

From the start, I wanted to understand the people using our tools in order to design better experiences for them. I asked myself: How can I build a better understanding of people who are using what we create? And, more important, how do they incorporate our products into their jobs? How can I help them get exactly what they expect from our tools?

Below are four of the most critical things I’ve done, and I’m sharing them because they dramatically improved my ability to learn deeply about the people who use our product. They helped me become more familiar with the world of advertising, and, ultimately, to continuously improve and design a better product. These steps are helpful for anyone integrating themselves into a new team.

Step One: Do Your Own Research

Design with understanding.

When people become part of a new team, most try to understand how the product works. However, when I started on Ads, I was completely new to the world of advertising and to my team’s particular tools. So, I dug deep and read everything I possibly could to get up to speed. I devoured content from our internal and external documentations, wikis, blogs, and good old internet searching to familiarize myself with the ad industry. Getting that baseline knowledge was crucial, because when I opened up Facebook Ads Manager — an essential tool for marketers around the world — I was completely lost. A lot of terminologies, functionalities, and tools were new to me. Thankfully, that rapidly changed.

Once I gained knowledge and confidence, my focus shifted to reading the UX Research studies conducted since the Ads product was created. At Facebook, product designers work closely with UX researchers. These folks are responsible for helping the team understand how people use our products. They provide us with foundational insights, situational context, and usability evaluations to guide design decisions about the best possible experience.

The UX researcher I collaborated with would often direct me to artifacts, raw data, and resources that would help me gain insights on specific audience or product questions. All of these enhanced my understanding. I started to get a deeper view of how our product, one that allows advertisers to run an A/B test for the ads that will be served to the people who use Facebook, had evolved based on business needs and ad strategies.

Among the above resources, I found user-segment analyses, journey maps, and detailed personas particularly valuable. Each helped me to uncover how different types of marketers in a range of roles utilized our product, what they needed more of, and what direction our product should take. Also, it helped me to understand where gaps in our knowledge exist. There’s a lot we don’t know or have never investigated, and doing an audit of user research really boosted my insight.

Simultaneously, I widened my scope to discover how the product is marketed, both to the public and through a wide range of sales channels. I scoured the Facebook Business website to view success stories and learn about the tools that are tied closely to our product. This self-driven research enabled me to build more context and made me more confident about sharing my thoughts during team meetings; I was also more in tune with the purpose of my projects.

Step Two: Put Yourself in Their Shoes

People first, product second.

Shortly after joining my team, I began “dogfooding” (a tech-world term that means testing out our own product) the Split Testing (A/B Testing for Ads) for our team’s product. Dogfooding is a great example of Facebook’s mission to truly connect with the people who use our tools and to better understand their struggles so that we can create meaningful connections. By incorporating it into our own product, we are able to put ourselves in the shoes of businesses and the audience’s ad experience. For me, dogfooding was crucial and insightful in helping me to understand how our product worked and fit into the larger Facebook Ads ecosystem.

Experimenting with settings within our tool and running a variety of ad campaigns helped me feel more confident. By gradually learning to implement our product, I was able to apply what I’d learned to my work. Given the complexity of these measurement tools — which we offer within Facebook Ads to advertisers to help them to experiment and optimize—this was a crucial step to understand each part of the user interface. I learned how people interacted with our product throughout their experience.

After experimenting with the product several times, I started documenting my experience by cataloging the pain points and suggestions (backed up by screenshots and proposals). My fresh-eyed perspective brought a lot of value to the team. When I shared my feedback with my group, some of the items made it to the top of our fix lists, and I was able to help solve them. It also turned out that some of the things that I called out had also been discussed during the research studies as pain points. Throughout this experience, which continues to today, I learned how to efficiently prioritize work that has the highest impact and is the most integral and helpful for our the businesses that use Facebook.

Step Three: Make Meaningful, Face-to-Face Connections

Step outside the digital world and meet the people who engage with your product.

A month into my job at Facebook, I traveled to New York City on a research trip to meet a range of marketers who use Facebook Ads. The initial motivation for the visit was to connect with marketers—selected based on our roadmap of what we wanted to accomplish in the future—but I wanted to go further, to gauge their experience with our tools. I wanted to know where we needed to improve.

The people I met with were very eager to tell us how our product could be improved for their purposes and for their businesses. The way they described and articulated their needs really struck me as eye-opening, and it got me really excited about my work. It was incredibly rewarding and energizing to see the product I spent so much time on through these people’s eyes.

Even after the research trip, I found more opportunities to meet our marketers and threw myself into being a part of it. This involved shadowing ad pros, looking over their shoulders to learn what their day-to-day was like. Through this process, I gleaned even more about marketers and how they used our tools.

When time allowed, I even got to ask a few questions about what I had observed or any specific questions about the product, too. This experience reminded me that these folks are not just a number in our metrics, but real people with jobs and responsibilities. The biggest takeaway for me was that, as designers, we need to constantly think about their experiences so that they can effectively run more successful campaigns and learn how to become better at their jobs.

Step Four: Learn From Team Members with a Wealth of Experience

Gain knowledge from those who have more experience than me in diverse perspectives and roles.

At Facebook, when you are new member of the team, having one-on-one meetings with everyone is encouraged. When I first started my internship, my manager organized a document that listed all of the coworkers that I should meet with individually. And when I began my full-time role on a different team, my new manager did the same. These face-to-face conversations allowed me to understand each person’s role and responsibilities. They also helped me to identify which person to reach out to when in need, be it UX researcher, product marketing manager, or engineer. All of my team members gave me crucial wisdom about the people who use our products.

Up the Steps and Moving Forward

At Facebook, we look at a lot of our research results — both qualitative and quantitative — to better understand how people are using our product. This deep well of knowledge really helps us to focus on the right problems and lets us know when we have solved them correctly. Yet we must always be cognizant that the people who put our tools to work are our top priority. We should aspire to improve each person’s experience every time we build more features into the product.

The objective of any product designer is not to become a design machine that simply churns out many designs or just ships a lot of stuff. Instead, our primary goal should be to understand the people who will be using our tools. We need to take the time to investigate the needs and pain points of the people we’re designing for. We can’t always be perfect, but prioritizing people inspires us to improve our tools nonstop.

Ultimately, the intention of our research and metrics is to make insightful assumptions and meaningful hypotheses to solve our marketers’ problems. In other words, every single time we create a design, we should transform raw information into a compelling story with the goal of helping people.

Thanks to Genevieve Isola, Jeffrey Winter, Logan Wells and Matt Turpin for their help with this piece.

Previous article (below):

Facebook Design: Business Tools

Stories from like-minded product designers, UX researchers, and content strategists who are passionate about improving the world through the creation of well-crafted business tools.

Geunbae "GB" Lee

Written by

Product Designer at Facebook, doing cool stuff :) https://geunbaelee.com

Facebook Design: Business Tools

Stories from like-minded product designers, UX researchers, and content strategists who are passionate about improving the world through the creation of well-crafted business tools.

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