Why do so many digital products fail? They weren’t designed with the user in mind. And because designers are not necessarily the average user of the product they’re creating, we must instead try to put ourselves in their users’ shoes. In other words, we must design with empathy.
“The main tenet of design thinking is empathy for the people you’re trying to design for.” — David Kelley, Founder of IDEO
Being a Champion for Your Users
Empathy, as explained by the global design and innovation company IDEO in the context of human-centered design, is a “deep understanding of the problems and realities of the people you are designing for.”
When we talk about human-centered design, we’re really talking about understanding — and speaking for — the people who will ultimately use the products we design. As designers, it’s therefore our responsibility to be the champion for our users — constantly thinking about what they want, need, and feel. We must look at the experiences we’re designing from the user’s perspective. We must capture and amplify the voice of the user, never letting it get drowned out by conflicting interests or unnecessary features. If we fail to do this, we risk designing a product unwanted by the people it was made for.
“People ignore design that ignores people.” – Frank Chimero, illustrator and author of The Shape of Design
Using Empathic Design
The empathic design approach is used in product design to gather qualitative data about what users think, feel, and need in order to create a better user experience. In practice, it brings designers and end users closer together and allows designers to put their users — and their users’ needs — first.
- Observe: Identify the end users and observe their behavior, while leaving your subjective assumptions and experiences behind
- Capture data: Ask “how” and “why” questions to interpret users’ actions
- Reflect and analyze: Generate insights to identify and understand users’ needs and problems
- Brainstorm for solutions: Create and design solutions to implement
- Develop prototypes: Bring ideas from the brainstorming session to life in a prototype to then be tested by potential users
Using this method, the user experience is co-created with users—not just for users—to create greater empathy and ensure users’ needs are met.
“We are at a critical point where rapid change is forcing us to look not just to new ways of solving problems but to new problems to solve.” — Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO
Disrupting with Empathy
There’s a reason design thinking places a premium on empathy. In the process of getting closer to their users, it’s possible for designers to uncover unmet or unidentified needs as well as previously unimagined potential solutions— thereby fueling creativity, innovation, and even industry disruption.
This is especially necessary in sectors that have been slow to adapt to our increasingly digital world—including insurance and financial services. Take Oscar Health as an example: The health insurance startup was founded in 2012 in direct response to the lack of simplicity and transparency in the industry. With a mission to make health insurance people-friendly, Oscar has reimagined the entire user experience—from making it incredibly easy to sign up to using plain, straightforward language on the post-doctor visit bill.
As Oscar co-founder Naveen Selvadurai has said, “There’s a difference between what insurance companies want, and what’s right.” By putting what’s right for their users at the core of everything they do, Oscar has built a business based on empathy—that’s poised to disrupt a $1.8 trillion industry.
Empathy isn’t just necessary in design, it’s crucial to business success.