Practicing Empathy in Product Design

Amy Thibodeau
Apr 12, 2016 · 7 min read
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Empathy Picture by The Shopping Sherpa on Flickr.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Silicon Valley is a notoriously insular place to work. During the two years I commuted from San Francisco to the peninsula, I spent the vast majority of my time with people who were a lot like me. It was easy to forget that the experience I lived every day wasn’t representative of the vast majority of humans my products were trying to serve.

Doing Empathy

Practice: Perform (an activity) or exercise (a skill) repeatedly or regularly in order to improve or maintain one’s proficiency.

There are a thousand big and small ways to practice empathy as part of a product design and development process. But it’s hard because it means you need to change the way you work.

  • What their pain points are
  • How you are uniquely positioned to respond to their needs
  • Design bigger, brighter, animated buttons with larger click targets
  • Imply a false sense of urgency or scarcity that all but forces people to click
  • Provide only teaser information in my email so that people need to click through to see the meat of the content (ex: someone did something that impacts you, click to see)
  • Is your key metric the right way to measure progress against company goals?
  • Are there other more user-centered opportunities for achieving the company goals that your team hasn’t considered?
  • What does your key metric represent in human terms? (ex: clickthroughs isn’t a very human way to characterize an experience you’re building for people)
  • How will you factor in qualitative feedback and evaluation to measure if your tactics impact user sentiment?
  • How can we increase the value of our emails for customers?
  • What do our customers need from our emails? What do they want from our emails?
  • What can we offer our customers on our website to justify their click?
  • Avoid language that tries to manipulate people into taking actions they don’t want to take. If you ever find yourself in a position where you’re using trickery to get someone to do something they don’t want to do, stop pretending you care about empathy.
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Image Credit: Harper’s Bazaar via The Cruelest Opt Out Forms


Write Like a Human

Tactical advice for people who weren’t hired to write…

Amy Thibodeau

Written by

Writer and reader. Director of UX for App and Partner Platform at Shopify. Formerly designed with words at Facebook. Based in Toronto. http://amythibodeau.com

Write Like a Human

Tactical advice for people who weren’t hired to write product content but find themselves doing it anyway.

Amy Thibodeau

Written by

Writer and reader. Director of UX for App and Partner Platform at Shopify. Formerly designed with words at Facebook. Based in Toronto. http://amythibodeau.com

Write Like a Human

Tactical advice for people who weren’t hired to write product content but find themselves doing it anyway.

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