Unlocking the Power of Empathy: The Secret to Creating Products Your Users Will Love
Updated: Feb 17
Successful products and services are used and loved because they solve a real problem or cater to a real need. Discovering real user needs requires empathy- empathy for who they are and why they do what they do. Empathy allows designers to design from a user’s perspective, which is essential in design thinking. Empathising ensures that you drop your own prejudices and gain insights into real user needs that are often not obvious immediately, though inherent in user behaviour.
Empathy, much like the Design Thinking mindset, can be trained and cultivated with practice. So, how does one empathise?
There are 5 ingredients of empathy to take note:
Meet your user in context (where the problem you are designing for lies). This not only helps your user gain trust in your process, it also helps you build empathy to the situation your user faces. It helps if you bring along a smile and genuine interest in the user.
Immediately make connection with the user by building rapport. A positive rapport will open up the conversation to allow for deeper stories and emotions. Some tips for rapport building include:
- Posture yourself with positive body language such as open arms and shoulders, nice smile and receiving palms
- Establish immediate body contact like shaking hands or tapping of shoulders
- Dress for the occasion ie dress in suit and ties if you are talking to a CEO, and casual if you are chatting with millennial
- Mirror your body and expression with your user to create connection
Mirroring- body forward, hands clasped together, legs crossed, head towards each other
- Praise the user with small talks to create positive vibes (ie Wow you look great with the handbag, where did you buy it?)
- Create shared topics and beliefs at the start (ie Oh you watched soccer over the weekend? I always supported Liverpool from young!)
Observe how your user interacts with the different elements within his/her surrounding. Take note of visual cues that are often not communicated directly (e.g. the shoulder slump or even the furrowed brows). Whilst your focus should remain on user-product or user-service touch points, it is crucial to take note of other elements that may affect your user (e.g. a child in context or a particular furniture).
Observe the mum and baby- and how they interact
Ask open-ended and non-leading questions if something your user does piques your interest. While you should avoid interrupting your user mid-action, you should also remember to ask at an optimal time before he/she forgets what he/she had actually done.
Listen to your user’s response with genuine interest and pick up on the story/ background of their responses. Be mindful of mirroring your user, looking him/ her in the eye (if it is culturally appropriate) and maintain an open posture when listening to your user as users can pick up on these cues and may become reluctant to share their problems with you.
Feel what your users go through, which will help you connect the first 4 steps in the techniques listed. Size up their feelings and emotions without personal judgement.
Feel the emotions and feelings- and understand the reasons behind it
These empathising techniques will allow you to capture the intangible meaning behind your user experience. While it may offer you valuable insights into user needs, do remember that the process does not end here. The design thinking process continues into filtering the information gathered and translating them into tangible insights to design for. Personas and empathy maps are just some of the tools that we will be sharing on to continue validating your empathising process.
I will be adding more articles on Design Thinking throughout the year. Articles of Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype and Test will be added periodically to give my readers a broader insights to Design Thinking.
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About the Author
Daniel Ling has more than 10 years of Design Thinking experience and has moulded himself to be a “designer in a business suit”- strong in the Design Thinking process and yet relevant to the financial and business industry- across OCBC, DBS, NTUC Income and Lazada. He trained close to 500 professionals in the area of Design Thinking, Innovation and Strategy. He authored the Complete Design Thinking Guide for Successful Professionals and the book is sold worldwide via Amazon, iTunes, Ingram, Lulu and Kinokuniya.
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