I’ve heard it said that the most critical trait for a designer to have is empathy. I think I agree with that. According to Google, empathy is defined as …

“the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.”

In almost all cases, we are designing an experience that a person uses. Hence, the common word “user” is always associate with what we do — user, usability, user experience, etc. Unlike artists, our work is judged not only by how it looks, but also how it works. Is it easy to use? Can a user quickly understand it? Do they enjoy the experience?

As important as this trait is, I often see it applied in a subtle, yet incorrect manner. Scenarios like this often start with one of the following phrases …

“What I think would work is __________.”

“If it were me, I’d like it to work like this _________.”

“You know what I think is a good idea?”

I know I’m guilty of this from time to time. Seems like we miss the boat sometimes as we attempt to be empathetic.

As designers, we can’t just do what we would want if we were the user. When we do that, we are still bringing along all of our own personal preferences, expertise and preconceived notions. In a way, that’s showing a self-centered form of empathy.

What I love about that definition above is the word “share”. Its not enough to just understand, but we have to experience it ourselves for it to be true empathy. We have to take it a step further by putting ourselves in their shoes and really feel their pain points and look at the problem from their point of view, not our own.

  1. Listen.
  2. Observe.
  3. Listen some more.
  4. Then ask questions.

So the next time we’re solving a problem for a user, let’s try to remember to apply true empathy.

I’m a long-time UX Designer specializing in web, mobile, and product design with a focus on craftsmanship, problem-solving and design leadership.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store