What is Empathy?

Empathy – the capacity to recognize emotions that are being experienced by another person – is arguably one of the most important aspects of User Experience (UX) design. UX design trends can no longer be ignored as organizations are pushed to provide audiences with seamless and convenient interactions. Empathy allows nonprofit organizations to put themselves in a visitor’s shoes and leads them to a genuine understanding of how to solve their problems. By understanding a visitor’s emotions, motivations, goals and problems, organizations have a better ability to shape a visitor’s decisions to better meet their website goals.

Developing Empathy

In an interview with UX Matters, it states that designers can use a number of exercises to better understand their users, the communities they live in,
the kind of people they regularly interact with, and the lives they live. The aim of these exercises should be to:

  1. Increase open-mindedness – “You must avoid judging people and contexts too early and remain open to opportunities that may not be immediately obvious to you and the people you meet.”
  2. Reduce bias – “We all have specific views about the world. By being aware of them and knowing when to put them aside, you can get better at going into new situations with fresh perspectives.”
  3. Collaborate with research participants – “You should give participants an equal role in the research that you do, giving them a voice and helping them share and open up their lives to you.”
  4. Accept what you see and hear – “You should never dismiss what situations and participants reveal to you. You shouldn’t judge, but rather accept the truth of what you see and what that truth may mean.”

Bias inevitably plays a large part in nonprofit organizations’ decisions despite best efforts to remain neutral. It’s human nature to resort to our bias, especially when it comes to our expertise. However, having an open mind can lead to a wealth of information and drive creative innovation. Listening to visitor feedback is simple, but acting on the information is what will lead to an organization’s success.

Research & Testing

It’s no surprise that organizations that use empathy effectively see much greater results. Their visitors experience more seamless interactions and have a better understanding of the organization. As discussed in previous blog posts, conducting user research should be at the top of your organization’s list when discussing UX design, as user experience cannot exist without users. The same idea should be applied while focusing on empathy in design. Focus groups, A/B testing, eye tracking and other research methods can not only help organizations and designers make conclusions about the way their visitors think, but also about how they feel.

Forming Conclusions

Dustin Cartwright, a UI/Web Designer & Front-End Developer, describes empathetic design by using an example provided by Betty Crocker, “They found that by making the process of baking a boxed cake more complex (adding two real eggs vs egg powder), their customers enjoyed the end result much more because they no longer felt guilty for “cheating”. This is also a great example that shows how emotions will strongly sway opinion of a product.”. As emotion is not often easy to measure, this example shows how A/B testing can help determine if research and expectations match the (emotional) results.

Seeking empathy in design is not something that can happen overnight. It’s even likely an organization’s UX-optimized website will not be perfected on the first try. Building on results and findings over time will help organizations’ web presence evolve and continue to be a “better fit” for their target audience. As organizations’ understanding of visitors’ emotional response grows, the more likely the organizations are to deliver visitors with the best user experience possible.

Interested in taking a more user-centered design approach to your website?
We’d be happy to help you!