Empathy and User Experience

Empathy is the act of feeling the same emotions as another person, or attempting to walk a mile in his or her shoes. It’s more than just an emotional state, as it also plays a critical role in creating a dynamic user experience. Here are a few ways you should use empathy in order to develop a more satisfying user experience.

How is Empathy Used?

With user experience, empathy is used as a way to develop a better outcome. Empathy is most effective when intertwined with design methods rather than being used to create sympathy for one’s audience. For maximum results, two types of empathy should be used in your design process:

  • Cognitive empathy, which is the ability to understand another person’s mental state and is sometimes referred to as “perspective taking.”
  • Affective empathy, a type that involves feelings and responses to another individual’s emotional state. Affective empathy is also known as emotional or primitive empathy.

Role in Human-Centered Design

The concept of human-centered design can help you develop solutions to meet the needs of your audience. Without empathy, most people will rely solely on their own experiences, and will not consider that the experiences of others may be different. It’s easy to forget that not everyone shares the same perspective, making empathy a key ingredient when it comes to incorporating the thoughts and feelings of others.

Useful in Creating Personas

Creating personas is one way to enhance the user experience. However, your personas will seem more genuine if you utilize empathy to give them thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Putting yourself in their shoes will allow you to anticipate the type of problems your personas might face, and will therefore give you a better idea as to the type of user experience someone might have.

Practical Tools for Developing Empathy

Several tools are available to help you develop empathy, including:

  • Collaborative sketching
  • Collaging
  • Empathy mapping
  • Gamestorming
  • Generative making
  • Journey mapping
  • Shadowing

In using these tools, the role of your design team is to come up with practical solutions that will allow your users to take action. Rather than solving a particular problem for them, your goal should be to come up with ways for them to handle issues on their own.

The Future of Empathy

There is currently a shift toward participatory design, a method that actively involves a wide group of users into the process. Many believe this trend will enhance the user experience by bringing designers and users together to solve problems that might otherwise go overlooked. This type of collaboration will require empathy to help individuals understand each other and come up with practical yet flexible solutions.

The word empathy is often thought of as an empty buzzword that is highly overused. That doesn’t mean it isn’t important, as the concept of empathy can prove extremely valuable when it comes to enhancing user experience. Think of empathy as something actionable rather than simply an emotion, and you will find it becomes a necessary part of your overall design process.