Empathy must drive design

The title of this article is what made me read it: “From Design Thinking to Design Doing“. This article is an excerpt from the book Well Designed by Jon Kolko.

It talks about old school design in comparison to the Apple era of design, and it places that design in the typical product development processes of before (waterfall, bogged down by over documenting product requirements) and now (agile or lean, which is really “fragile” in trying to “fail fast and succeed sooner”). Kolko really captures the lay of the land well.

His solution is a design process based on empathy. The article calls out this quote to summarize it: “Engagement is achieved by designing products that seem as though they have personality or even soul.” But, I think this set of sentences is much more inspiring (it can’t be a tweet, as the article calls out to tweet it, but it can’t always be about a tweet):

At the core of design-focused product development is emotional engagement—the deep feelings a person forms about a product while using it. People tend to personify products—especially, increasingly, digital products—assigning them human characteristics and relating to them on an emotional, human level. To understand and design for this emotional appeal, it’s critical not only to understand people, but to truly empathize with them in order to feel what they feel.

Once again, it all comes back to knowing who your users or readers are. We must know them well enough to empathize with them, “to feel what they feel.”

Update, March 30, 2015, 1pm ET:
I ran across this most wonderful pic posted to Twitter by Christina Wodtke, which shows the user at the center of UI design, IxD (interaction design), and IA (information architecture):

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2 Responses to Empathy must drive design

  1. Larry Kunz says:

    I liked Kolko’s article — thanks for making me aware of it. I like the gist of what he says, and I like the conclusion you drew: that we have to empathize with our readers. It’s why personas work so well.

    Yet….Although I like the conclusion, I’m uncomfortable with the line of reasoning Kolko took to arrive at it. With a few exceptions (cars come to mind) I don’t think we connect emotionally with a product so much as with the thing we’re doing. If the product works as it should, it’s invisible. But if the product hinders us, through a poor UX, we might feel antipathy toward it. So from a product designer’s point of view, the best outcome is invisibility.

    The focus, then, should be entirely on the user experience. That might be hard for a serious Applephile to digest. But it’s something we’ve known in technical communication for decades.


    • Michelle Corbin says:

      I’ll have to hone my super power of invisibility, which is also the mark of any great editor!


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