What would you do if you were tasked with inspiring people to open bank accounts? In 2004, Bank of America gave this same challenge to design firm IDEO—and a human-centered, ethnographic-based approach led to the solution, a campaign called “Keep The Change.”
After making observations across the country, the IDEO team realized several people in charge of household finances were intentionally fudging their math. That is—they were rounding up to make addition easier, which also added a buffer in their bank accounts.
This was something IDEO could really use. Instead of starting inside the walls of Bank of America headquarters with marketing tactics and assumptions, IDEO ventured into the field to observe real people’s relationships with money.
IDEO’s final solution became a huge business success for Bank of America, but it also created a change in mental state for customers. And that is why empathy is so crucial to design thinking.
“More than a methodology or framework, design thinking combines the problem-solving roots of design with deep empathy for the user.” —Eli Woolery, DesignBetter.Co
Guiding your own team to practice empathy is the surest way to create a relevant product that’s functional and delightful to use. To help people practice empathy, Stanford’s d.school created a challenge called The Wallet Project.
This project tasks participants with designing a wallet in just a few minutes. After they’ve sketched use cases and specifics, the participants are directed to interview someone specific. Following this conversation, they’re again directed to design a wallet—but for the specific individual instead.
As you can imagine, versions 1 and 2 of those wallets will look quite different. This simple exercise is a powerful way to demonstrate empathy’s effect on design.
We adapted this exercise so you can use it with your own team. The scope has been pared down, so it fits well within a 15-minute time block. In the interview portion, we also suggest a few specific questions elicit feedback that has the potential to truly influence your designs.
After you give this exercise a go, imagine how you could apply the practice to your work.
For expert insights and suggestions—or to learn more about IDEO and Bank of America’s “Keep the Change” campaign—check out the Design Thinking Handbook on DesignBetter.Co.