Designing empathy through user research

Making your insights heard by the right people while pitching the values of user research in the process.

People & Product
May 18 · 7 min read
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At Swiggy, we cater to three different platforms, dealing with largely different user segments. The first two groups are classified into Partners: delivery executives and restaurant partners who serve as the backbone of the service we provide to the next user group, the consumers. The research team works across these three verticals helping teams understand their users better.

Typically, research begins with a hypothesis or assumption held by the team which further needs to be validated. But here, we got approached by a question:

“Who are the Restaurant partners? What do we know about them and the business they manage daily?”

Designers were involved right from the beginning of the process — from accompanying on research trips to critique sessions of the analysis. This act of collaboration was our first step towards empathy-building, with designers being first-hand witnesses of the research and finally, having faith in the outcome of our process.

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Our research settled with many great stories to count, conversations with restaurant partners, understanding their journey transitioning from offline to the online world, discovering the real problems and how it impacts them. All the data collected had to be synthesised and filtered to make them easily consumed by the product team and executed upon. This was done with the help of affinity mapping and millions of post-its.

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Revamping the process

Every research cycle reaches its conclusion by presenting outcomes that call out insights, essential for driving product decisions. Creating such a deliverable would be the next goal for this project as well, but we weren’t convinced with just having a document for the findings and struggled to fit the stories into formatted presentations.

  1. Invading an entire room
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We wanted to do justice to the gathered information by not losing the real people behind a bunch of slides in a report. Hence, the genesis of Episodes happened, displaying our insights in a physical set-up. This process creates a buzz within the company, generating a sense of curiosity among people to learn more about it.

2. Bye! Bye! Bullet points

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Episodes grew to be a series of mini-exhibitions. We encouraged our colleagues to identify with our experiences and understand the behaviour behind an insight. We had to move beyond the impression of ‘just a regular meeting’ keeping the content engaging and relatable, motivating the audience to walk around the room rather than blankly staring at the screen for hours.

3. Drifting away from meeting agendas

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Each episode had a unique name to it, puzzling yet in sync with the core topic. This ambiguity helped to assemble a large crowd and allowed the product team to come with an open mindset, without gravitating towards information only applicable to their scope of work at Swiggy.

4. Getting the right people together

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Although the walkthrough was open to all, we still wanted the right people to be present in the room. The designers acted as our spokespersons, targeting the right audience, who will drive the insights as key change-makers for the product. Having the presence of the right people also acts as an incentive for others to find value in this initiative.

Engaging the audience

Our main goal was to communicate these insights well while not overwhelming our audience. We felt that engagement was vital for connecting the audience to our users’ story. Some things that worked for us were —

  1. Speaking their language
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We chose to map our users’ journey on a structure that was existing and understood in the organization. By doing this, we were taking them along a path they knew but highlighting fresh stories. It made it easier to grasp the conversation as we presented our learnings.

2. Breaking down the insights without dilution

An extensive look at the restaurant partners’ story helped us understand how their past drives their actions, decisions, and expectations from our service today. To communicate this with integrity we chose to break the information down into levels.

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We presented the actions that owners undertook, their outcomes and what they felt through the journey. Takeaways helped deliver the unbiased learning from this exercise without distracting the audience with premature solutions. It opened the conversation for brainstorming on the next actionable steps.

3. From researchers to storytellers

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We didn’t want this to be an information dump. We wanted to take the audience along the journey, being in the shoes of the restaurant partners. To do this, we had to assume the role of storytellers. The audience absorbed the information, with us narrating different anecdotes while revealing patterns that appeared overall. We emphasized the ups and downs in the emotions and reasons they occurred. It brought focus to the fact that they weren’t just “business owners” but regular people who might be struggling using our service too.

4. More Immersion, More conversations

A crucial aspect of having episodes was wanting to spark a conversation on what they just learnt. We encouraged the audience to ask questions and share opinions about the stories. Different experts weighed in with their knowledge and enriched these discussions. To augment this exchange, we asked the audience to participate by —

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Measuring the impact

Although this process was an experiment we saw success for the project as well as the team.

  1. Shifted the conversation to partnership — Understanding the user’s problems beyond the platform made the team speak about them as “partners” of the business. The conversation shifted from how can our company grow to how can we grow together.
  2. Revised the value of user research — The meaning of research changed from a hypothesis validation method to a way of understanding the users and finding opportunities for innovation.
  3. Stakeholders turned advocates — Many stopped us in the hallway and asked: “When is the next episode?”. They wanted to accompany us on research trips and became active advocates of the research process, resulting in new projects for the team.

You can do it better

We learnt some things the hard way so here are some ways in which you can step up and improve the process.

  1. Identify the right project — This method for increasing empathy can be used for projects where you want to highlight an entire system or break a larger story in parts. It can also lend well to presentations that need to lead to a discussion or brainstorm with multiple stakeholders.
  2. Time it — Attention span is limited, and your insights are important. Timing your story can help you keep it easier to consume and for people to leave with the content in mind rather than the thought of grabbing lunch.
  3. Have a comfortable set up — You don’t need plush sofas, but make sure the environment is casual, so it’s differentiated from regular “meetings” and conducive for creative discussions. You can have some snacks or coffee around to incentivise people to stay.
  4. Use more media — Using artefacts such as pictures, videos depicting the process and the participants can help humanize their problems. Make sure these lend well to the story. Try keeping videos short and do include subtitles.
  5. Give them reference material — We sent a digital version of the wall(using Miro) and a summarized insights deck to everyone after each episode. It allowed them to look deeper, share what they saw, and refer back when they needed it. It can be extremely beneficial to anyone new to the team, trying to get an idea of the product they will be a part of.

So what’s next?

We still desire to keep the momentum going of learning and sharing insights. This method is a one-off case to ensure that people who design and build at Swiggy feel more connected to the people who use it. We still have a long way to go and a lot more to learn.


To achieve research done at such an extensive scale does take a village. We’d like to thank each and everyone who contributed to making this research possible (Soumya Jain, Ravish Malik, Abhishu Roy, Akshay Prabhu, Sharmila Manicks and Omkar Jambovane). Thank you, Srinath Rangamani for the constant pep talk and for stressing on the importance of making the insights shine.

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Hello! from the authors of this article Cydelle Zuzarte and Meenakshi Kamat. Industrial designers turned user researchers who work together and now write together.

Stay tuned for more!

If you have tried any such empathy-building practice in your workplace, please do share your experiences with us and keep the conversation going in the comments…

Swiggy Design

Musings & Perspectives of the Swiggy Design Team

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