The importance of designing with empathy.

A 2 minute read, written by Chris Annetts on 31 January 2017.

Humans are hardwired to act emphatically, and yet it’s a skill we’re rapidly losing

The University of Michigan studied data provided by 14,000 students, and their research showed that students who enrolled at the college after the year 2000 showed 40% less empathy than those who came before them.

In the words of Sheryl Sandberg, “Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be OK, but acknowledging that it is not”.

It’s the ability to understand someone else’s point of view, and see the World through their eyes. It’s about sharing in their feelings, their motivations, the constraints they’re working within, and even their emotional state.

To create truly meaningful experiences, we have to learn to step back from our own preconceptions. Psychologist Daniel Coleman once said, “A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain”.

By connection with people at an emotional level, you create an opportunity to not only humanise their experience, but to drive positive behaviour.

There’s no one quick-fix, and understanding what makes someone tick requires an investment. Talk to people; schedule interviews with as many users as you can. Make time to observe them in their natural environment. Listen to their struggles and study their vulnerabilities.

As designers, our actions have consequences, influencing peoples mood and shaping their entire experience. How well we do affects their lives, for better or worse.

We have a responsibility to those interacting with our websites, products, or services; we have an obligation to do everything we can to walk in their shoes.