What can we do to Maintain Empathy?
There is no easy (or perhaps even “right”) solution for this problem, but I can share some of my conclusions and practical methods to help you through the tricky moments.
1. Engage With Your Team
When you’re… solving a different problem
In my experience, to build great products, we need to nurture a healthy and positive culture within the team. If you are not solving the right problem, and that’s getting you frustrated, stop and ask for help from your team. If we don’t empathise with our colleagues, how can we empathise with people we’re designing for?
Activity: Swap roles — Get someone from your team to swap roles or tasks with you. The goal here is to understand and even gain compassion for each other, which can lead to useful behavioral changes.
2. Keep the Momentum Going
When you’re… facing the test of time
Empathy serves to inspire decisions in the early stages of a design process: it helps designers to develop the reasoning and feelings behind human behaviours. We gain insights into people’s needs, wants, feelings and thoughts, and why they demonstrate such behaviors.
Activity: Empathy is not a stage: you should extend the empathy activities whenever needed during the process. Product teams that consistently keep customer needs in mind are able to maintain and evolve their products. For me, design process should be summarised as: Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test — and Empathise above all these stages.
3. Try it Yourself
When you’re… solving truly complex problems
If a problem is too complex, try gaining personal insights into others’ experiences. Resonating with the user may be easiest when you’ve got a personal example at hand. For example, I worked on a project to improve customer experience during a fraud journey. There was an immediate connection between me and our target customer, as I had also gone through the experience of being defrauded. I could remember how it felt when I experienced the same problem and how painful it was. Designers empathise more when they hear or see customers in action. So, why not invite a customer to sit and work with the team?
Activity: Extra chair — Invite customers to sit with the team and participate not only in the definition stage of the project. For example, invite them to participate in a ideation session with the team.