How do I practice empathy in UX design? UX Question #75

Watch on YouTube

YouTube player

Listen to the podcast

Read the transcript

Lucas from Amsterdam asks: How do I practice empathy in UX design?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Lucas. This is UX Question number 75 and I am Ben Judy.

How do I practice empathy in UX design? Bill Buxton said, “The best products are born from a deep empathy with the people who use them.” Back in episode 2, I began my definition of UX design by saying, build empathy with your users. Empathy is foundational to our work—but how do we do it? I’ve got five tips to get you started.

One, understand what empathy is. I think most people believe that empathy is something like feeling what other people feel. But it’s a nuanced topic. There are different types of empathy: emotional, cognitive, and compassionate. The meaning of the English word empathy has changed over the years. It’s worth some study to form a solid understanding of what it is, before you try to practice it as a UX designer.

Tip number two, be aware of your biases. Our natural, human tendency to be biased is an empathy blocker. Designing around your bias starts with awareness. Go back to episode 45 for more on that.

Tip number three, observe how users interact with products in their natural environment. If your understanding about how users feel is from second-hand accounts, removed from their actual context of use, your ability to build empathy is limited. Nothing beats seeing a person’s facial expressions and body language, and hearing the tone of their voice, in the time and place where they typically interact with your designs. Most of my moments of true, emotional connection with users happened when I stepped away from my laptop, got out of the office, and spent time with users.

Tip number four, practice the tools of the trade. Good user research methods, personas and persona spectrums, user journey maps, empathy maps—all these things we create and use in our work exist to help us build empathy into the UX design process. Become a master of these techniques. Mastery only comes through practice.

Tip number five, try out the product yourself. It is shocking how often UX designers begin a project without spending any time, or hardly any time, using the product they are designing for. If you don’t know how you feel about it, it’s not possible for you to contextualize how other people feel about their own experience with the product.

These are just five tips from me. Many UX experts have shared their tips for practicing empathy. Indi Young’s book Practical Empathy is a good read. Check the description for links to other UX books and articles.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: what is conversation design?

Referenced in this episode:

Support UX Questions

Visit us on Patreon and check out the great perks at each level of support!

Become a sponsor

You can advertise your products or services—our promote yourself as a UX professional—by sponsoring episodes of UX Questions! See the Sponsor page for details.

Hire Ben Judy

Ben is available for consulting engagements as a workshop facilitator, mentor, design coach, and more! See the Ben page for details.