How to Master Empathy –

Empathy is a skill that every designer (and really human being) should be sharpening

Put yourself in those shoes!

Empathy is a big word. It’s also a great buzz word in the industry and rightfully so. As we increase in our user-centered design, empathy is a skill that every UX-er (and really human being) should be sharpening.

Empathy is different from sympathy. While sympathy is also a good thing to show, it does not meet the needs of the user. I would argue that sympathy, in regards to UX, is how the world revolved in previous eras. Sympathy says, “I am sorry you feel that way…have a balloon and some chocolates!”

Use of the word, sympathy, for the last 200 years.

This is not enough when it comes to UCD. We must go the extra step and that is where empathy comes in. Empathy literally means: to put yourself in another’s shoes. Also, to identify with another. Whereas sympathy is showing compassion and concern. Empathy says, “If you’re feeling it, I will feel it too.” A great example is this old adage: “If your friend asks you for a shirt, give him two. If he asks you to walk with him a mile, go another.” That’s a great picture of putting yourself in another’s shoes. Grab his shoes and walk with him.

Empathy is gaining a lot of traction these days and it’s important that we understand how to put it into action and have it be a driving force in our designs and processes.

Use of the word, empathy, for the last 200 years.

As a way of elucidating the importance of empathy, I turn to a modern day hero and sage to help guide us in our quest to understand emapthy.

Behold, empathy in UCD…according to Rick Astley!

Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down
Never gonna run around and desert you
Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye
Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.

Let’s break this down.

  1. Never gonna give you up, never gonna let you down. 
    This should be the motto for every product and every website on earth. In our profit driven world this is the antidote to greed and frivolity. It’s an empathetic view that says, “Our user/client/customer is who keeps us in business and allows us to eat. We are never going to give up on them or let them down…by making our products better and our websites more efficient.” In fact, this one sentence alone should lead, immediately, to the end of interrupting pop-up ads on home pages. If you truly empathize with your user — you will vanquish this UX malpractice post-haste! (I am using some really big words here!) We let every user down when we employ these childish methods. NN Group cites those popups as the most hated feature of websites! Never give up on user empathy, if you hate the experience on your site/product…change it!
  2. Never gonna run around and desert you.
    For the record this is not the kind of dessert you eat. 😉 If we are truly empathizing with our users, we will not give them the run around. How effective is your user flow? Is it convoluted and congested? Is it leading users to the wrong info? When we give users the run around, they will desert us. Giving users the run around can look like: marketing text that gives zero explanation to what you do, links that have no relation to actual content, too many steps to complete basic actions, and on it goes. Are you giving the users the run around? If you’re bleeding customers, it’s most likely because they feel as if you have given them the run around and deserted them!
  3. Never gonna make you cry, never gonna say goodbye.
    Have you ever used a product or site that made you want to cry? It was so frustrating that it brought you to tears?! The worst is when you have to use this site to accomplish your goal, there are no other options. I immediately think of the DMV as a site/product (Or Mobile Strike/Game of War — that UX and UI makes me cry). I cannot escape the fact that I have to eventually go there to get my driver’s license. I have felt like crying. DO NOT make your UX a DMV UX! If we are putting ourselves in other’s shoes, we would never deliberately make somebody cry (unless you’re a super villain or MZ.) We definitely don’t want any user to say goodbye! We want our users to stick around and laugh and use/buy/share our products. What are you doing to keep your user around? Empathy won’t make them cry or let them say goodbye. The good news is that you can redeem yourself through empathizing with their reasons and fix the UX!
  4. Never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.
    There’s a lot of lying going on in the world today. For example, if you drink Bud Light it will not transport you to the beach with beautiful people to play volleyball! (Spoiler alert!) Are you lying to your users? Does your product deliver what it says it will? Lies hurt people, they give people a bad UX taste in their mouth. Don’t be a liar. Don’t hurt your users. Learn how to master the art of UX writing mixed with marketing. Products and sites can make our lives better, no doubt. Just be honest about it. Don’t manipulate people for profits. Don’t drag others down into the lizard brain! Great products don’t need to lie about what they provide and they won’t hurt the users!

We have a responsibility as UX-ers to push great products and sites out into the world. We also have a responsibility to empathize with our users. If you don’t like the way a website or a product functions — don’t incorporate it into your stuff! It’s not worth it.

So, empathize, walk in another’s shoes, go the extra mile, give them a couple shirts. As you do, you will begin to see from a different perspective and become a better person and a better UX-er!

In conclusion, I leave you with this…Don’t give up!

As always, clap and share. Let other’s know that UX is not an opinion and that the world needs better UX! Thanks!

Author: Casey Bombacie

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