From health care to social work to education, empathy is integral in many jobs. One of those jobs, you may be surprised to hear, is UX design!
User empathy is at the core of good UX design, so understanding what it is and how to be a more empathetic designer is essential for any UX designer. Luckily we have 8 simple ways to do exactly that, but first, what is user empathy, exactly?
What is User Empathy and Why is It Important?
User empathy isn’t the same as emotional empathy, but it involves understanding the experience of others. User empathy is understanding the experience of using your product from the perspective of your users. Are users getting frustrated trying to find something? Can they perform their task with ease? Has your design made their user experience more pleasant and efficient? These are the kinds of questions you will need to ask as an empathetic UX designer.
User empathy is an important skill for any UX designer because it’s at the heart of what this discipline is. The whole point of UX design is to improve product accessibility and ease of use. To make your UX design accommodating to as many people as possible, you need to understand your users’ needs. User empathy enables UX designers to evaluate their work from the users’ perspectives, which can then be used to inform design decisions and to ensure a user-centric approach.
How Can You Become a More Empathetic UX Designer?
The first step of UX design is asking questions about the people you’re designing for and about their needs and goals. Find out what they do and how they’re doing it, then think of how you could make it easier and faster for them.
To get an in-depth insight into their users’ needs, UX designers conduct primary and secondary research. Primary research includes direct user surveys and interviews to gauge the unique needs of your users. Secondary research includes using existing research, such as books and information found online, as a reference for design choices. Conducting primary research to learn your users’ needs and pain points is the first step to becoming a more empathetic UX designer.
When discussing your testers’ wants and experiences, be patient and allow them to tell you everything they have to say. It can be tempting to start brainstorming possible solutions in your head but focus on listening during the research step. You will fix everything later. You can’t solve a problem until you understand it, so paying attention is important!
Don’t ignore relevant information you didn’t ask about. Details your users mention off-hand can be more insightful than the answers to your questions because they can show you an angle you may not have considered.
During interviews, make sure you’re not simply taking notes like a detached scientist. Don’t be silent. Engage with your users - make sure they know you’re listening to and understanding them. Actively respond to their answers by summarizing what they said to show that you understand and ask for more detail when you don’t.
One thing you never want to do is make the user think you’re judging them or what they’re saying. When they tell you they often have trouble with a feature, don’t explain to them how to properly use it. Instead, take note of the difficulties they’re having. These notes will inform your design later — this is what you’re looking for.
Nothing stops a conversation faster than impenetrable work lingo. It can make the user feel like they’re being judged and could confuse them or shut them down. It’s important to approach these interviews from the perspective of a beginner. It will not only lessen the distance between you and your users but also help you understand your users’ needs better.
It can be tricky to talk about your product while avoiding words you would typically use at work, but remember: your users are not UX designers, so avoid talking to them as if they are!
For example, instead of asking them what they thought of your microcopy, ask them if the text on the buttons was easy to understand. Speaking this way will help you avoid overwhelming and alienating your users.
Once the research is done, UX designers analyze it to pinpoint key user groups. Then, user personas are created for each group based on the needs of that group. User personas allow you to make practical use of the primary research you had done previously. Creating them is an exercise in empathy on its own, and is common practice in empathetic UX design. Creating user personas is a particularly impactful way to be a more empathetic UX designer because you can reference them throughout later stages of the design process to make user-centric decisions a long time after the research phase.
Journey maps are a visual representation of the steps a user took to accomplish their goal. Journey mapping is a staple in user-focused design because it lets UX designers see firsthand how users interact with their designs. Journey maps can highlight trends among users, giving the designers insight into how their designs push people into using the product a certain way. But most importantly, journey mapping puts the designer in the shoes of the user, exposing the user’s frustrations as they interact with the design. It’s an essential step for any empathetic UX designer.
Empathy maps are also visual representations, but instead of showing how a user interacts with the product, they show a user’s feelings and behaviors. An empathy map is often drawn resembling a chart divided into four sections:
Empathy maps are not only useful in helping a designer consider and understand their users more, but also invaluable in meetings with investors. Empathy maps are great tools for expressing the needs of the users to others, and they keep those needs in the foreground for the designers’ coworkers as well.
Once you’ve put in the effort to conduct effective research, analyze your findings, create user personas, and journey/empathy maps, there’s one thing left to do — make sure you focus on those findings as you design. All of the insight you’ve gained from your research and analysis won’t do much good if it’s not put to use! It’s important to reference your user feedback during the design process to ensure that your design remains user-focused. At the end of the day, the end goal of user empathy is making a product that meets users’ needs.
Ready to Start Your UX Career?
If you want to learn more about UX design, then schedule a free mentorship session with Avocademy’s professional UX designers! We can help you jumpstart your career in this exciting field.