Why is empathy so important in design?

User-centeredness relies on connecting to users via empathy

Empathy is one of the most important soft skills you can have, especially as a UX designer. Connecting with humans by understanding their feelings and unique view of the world allows for better understanding. Once we have a deeper understanding of the people for whom we are designing, we can create better solutions for their problems.

Empathizing is the first, and most important step of the design thinking process.

Luckily, we have many tools to help us understand, which leads us to empathy. Our favorite techniques at Standard Beagle include listening, uncovering feelings, and reading non-verbal body cues. All of these help paint a picture of a person’s unique experiences. Then we relate their experiences to our own life experiences by connecting to a deeper level — the emotional level. It is much easier to relate to a feeling than to an event we can not really understand.

An empathy example

A few months ago, one of the students at the UX boot camps I assist in teaching — let’s call this student Rob — asked, “How can I empathize with an experience I can’t relate to, how do I put myself in someone else’s shoes?”

Rob was working with a group of women who were designing an application to help other women find petite clothing. For the other group members, this was a tangible struggle, and it was something each of them could easily relate to. But Rob could not immediately relate. He had never gone store-to-store, trying to piece together an outfit.

However, what he could relate to was the emotions that those women who face this problem felt. After learning more about the emotions that experience evoked — frustration and disappointment — he was able to connect those emotions to his own life experiences. This allowed him to empathize.

A deeper understanding

Creating empathy is important throughout the design thinking process. We need to understand the user before we can solve their problems. We need to account for all the use cases — the happy path and the frustrating path — so we compassionately create solutions.

Empathy allows us to cater to real human needs and gives us the platform to create mindful user experiences.