Of 90% of digital businesses that fail, a whopping 60% of them fail because they built something nobody wants.
So, how can you increase your chances of success? Empathy is a good place to start.
Being able to connect with your users and understand their emotions, goals, problems, and motivations will make you a better designer and a more receptive individual. That’s invaluable in the world of product development.
Related: Building user empathy within product teams
When we know our user’s key problem, we have a direction. When we have a direction, we have a purpose.
The best UX designers have an uncanny ability to spot pain points and problems, but to do this you have to care—you have to truly want to make the environment around you as good as it can be. But doing that is much harder than it sounds.
Learning to empathize starts with you—it’s a personal journey. Really, we all do it to some level already. Here are some tips to help you smash through that empathetic barrier and think with more feeling.
Have an open mind
A closed-minded approach to anything reduces options and honesty. To truly empathize with your users, you need to learn to actually listen to them and stop judging. Stop picking out the feedback you want to hear—switch your ears on to everything you’re being told.
Users have the frustrating habit of requesting every feature under the sun. Most of these requests will fall beyond your product’s unique selling proposition (USP). Things like “I really want to be able to change the background color to pink!”, but feedback will include many issues, suggestions, and ideas that will be pure gold dust—amazing new opportunities to smooth your user’s journey through your product. You must learn to pan through the dirt to find the gold.
Take the time to see problems from all perspectives
Rarely is your line of thought the only option. And just because it’s yours, does not make it right. Stand up for yourself, but learn to stand in your user’s shoes and relive the issue from every side to truly understand the impact and frustration the problem is causing. Learn to do this and you’re well on your to way UX stardom.
- How does this issue affect the user?
- Does this affect some of our users differently from others?
- Which users are most important to us?
- How does this issue affect our goal and milestones as a business?
- How does this issue affect our internal capabilities?
“Stand up for yourself, but learn to stand in your user’s shoes.”
Example: Joe is a power user and using your application daily, go Joe! Woo! He has a lot of data stored in your app and has run into an issue where he has to click through 30 pages of content to get to where he needs to be to carry out a task. Joe has to click 30 times to get to that content and he’s frustrated! You, on the other hand, only have 3 pages of content within the app, and let’s be honest—you’re not a power user.
You have not foreseen the issue and potentially would never come across it. You must step in to your users shoes and observe the issues that affect their path through your product.
With that in mind…
Learn to accept what you’re being told
It might not be right, but we’re far too quick to discount information and feedback from others based on our ingrained beliefs. Listening is easy, but learning to process and act on what you’re being told is an art.
Reduce bias at every opportunity
Step outside of your favored decision and consider that, for whatever reason, you’re too close to a project, person, or task to be impartial. Bias can strike at any time, and it’s contagious. Just because you and your colleague spent 2 days working on a new user journey for your product, it doesn’t mean it’s going to work. You may have just discovered an approach that won’t—and that’s still valuable progress.
Edison had it right when he said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Ask the right questions when user testing
To empathize on feedback, you need to learn what your users really think. When user testing, the questions you ask or don’t ask are key. Effective questions are specific, clear, open ended (cannot be answered with yes/no) and do not lead the interviewee.
Let’s go through a good question scenario and a bad question scenario:
Here goes the bad question:
“Don’t you just love our new sign-up page? We do, do you? If you go to this page, then click here and scroll down to here you can see it… Well, wasn’t that easy to use?”
Why is that bad?
- You’re drawing focus to a new feature far too quickly when you should be setting them a task first, then stepping back to watch and observe.
- You are swaying their opinion before you’ve given the user a chance to think for themselves which is super common and works against you! This is not about you but them.
- And you are telling them where to find what you are testing when you should be watching and waiting to see if and how they can find it.
Let’s rephrase that as a good question:
“Starting from the home page, please sign up for our product. Great, thanks! Did you encounter any problems when signing up? If you could change one thing when signing up, what would it be and why?”
Why are those better questions?
- You’re starting with a task that is controlled. This enables you to step into your user’s shoes and observe things from their perspective.
- You’re asking a question that is unbiased. You’re not there to persuade, but to observe their true behavior.
- By carefully watching your users and asking them unbiased questions, you’re uncovering valuable insight that can be acted upon in confidence.
“Your product’s UX is linked to your own appreciation & acceptance of empathy.”
Validate your ideas
Empathy opens the door to potential opportunities because it enables you relate, but validation is key as it confirms your thinking and enables you to act and fix a problem.
Taking your idea to your audience and asking the right questions while keeping an open mind is key to qualitatively validating your idea successfully. If you ask loaded questions and go into any problem with a closed mind you’re going to struggle to work through the problem to find your real answer.
Share the love
You may be on a mission to empathize with your users, but don’t do it alone! Promoting an emphatic culture within your business is just as important. It’s not just on your shoulders to learn to think with feeling. The more empathy you can share with the people around you, the better. Designers, developers, product managers, content writers, and support staff all benefit from empathy.
Your product’s user experience is heavily linked to your own internal appreciation and acceptance of empathy, so learn to embrace it and all the benefits it will bring.
“Don’t empathize with your users alone.”
If I make that sound easy, I’m sorry—it isn’t. We’re becoming more and more glued to our computer screens, engrossed in our work. That in itself makes relating and empathizing with the people, users, and colleagues around us in person a harder task to achieve.
Here are some tips to get your team thinking with feeling:
- Create visual personas of your audience and leave them around the office for your team to see. Attaching a name and face to your users shows they are real people which help others to relate.
- Openly invite all staff to user testing sessions with real users so they can see the issues they experience and the frustration this causes.
- Hold a roundtable meeting with staff to walk through the benefits of empathy within the workplace. Show the team how it helps you in your role.
- There’s a lot to be said for just sitting down and talking with someone. The people I look up to the most have always been able to listen, understand, see through the anger, excitement, sadness, or confusion and offer great feedback and advice. That rubs off on the people around you, so lead by example.
Get out there and start empathizing
Learning to empathize is at times exhausting and emotionally draining, but it’s such a valuable ability in life that enables you to listen, consider, and act with respect. Being empathetic means great things for your product and the people around you. From here on you can hopefully, carefully talk with your users and see problems from a new perspective.
It’s important to mention that this won’t happen overnight. It’s a skill that needs to be practiced, and it improves with experience.
But as with all skills, the first step is to start.
by Tom Starley
Tom Starley is a UX and UI specialist and founder. He’s passionate about increasing conversion and revenue for growing online companies through expert UX/UI design and consultancy. He has a passion for helping people embrace the benefits of design thinking.