Breaking Development: Designing with Empathy

by April 9, 2013

In his presentation at Breaking Development in Orlando FL Aaron Gustafson highlighted the importance and value of considering design decisions from the perspective of your customers. Here's my notes from his talk on Designing with Empathy.

  • Design is in everything we do but it is not art. Art is first and foremost a way to express ourselves. Design, on the other hand, is problem solving.
  • Your ego is a bad designer. We need to solve actual problems in our business with design not dwell in self-expression.
  • We should be designing things to have a conversation. Design is communication.
  • Empathy is the ability to share an experience vicariously with others. We're wired to empathize and feel the things other's feel through mirror neurons.
  • Empathy requires listening, questioning, intuition, observation, and patience. We need to learn from others by paying attention to what they do and say. Take the time to understand people's perspective and situation.
  • Ego is a shield. Its something that we put up to protect ourselves from others. Being defensive and throwing up walls doesn't help us solve problems and get things done.
  • You need to be vulnerable to work with others and make collaboration effective. When you open yourself up to the ideas of others, more creative thinking follows suit.

Applied to the Web

  • Personas can be helpful for aligning teams with customers but be careful to not confuse personas with actual users.
  • User scenarios provide situational empathy. Call out the relevant facts of the situation. Use just enough details to be able to be able to imagine yourself in someone else's shoes. User scenarios allow us to empathize in a way that is productive. We can design accordingly.
  • Author appropriate content: speak our user's language, avoid jargon, write in an appropriate tone and voice.
  • Consider physical limitations: make sure text is readable, actions can be tapped, keyboard access is available, make it easier for people to accomplish tasks.
  • Don't create unnecessary barriers: provide access to anyone. Progressive enhancement can help.
  • Don't force your agenda on your users. Be respectful of their decisions and choices (app download screens, high resolution images)
  • Support common assistive technologies: use ARIA to increase accessibility.
  • Help our users learn to accomplish things and reward them for it.