Empathy: The Foundation to Good Design
“If I asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse”
Henry Ford, the inventor of American muscle, the game-changing innovator of the world’s transport economy, did not know it then but his frame of mind encompassed what we today call “Design Thinking”, a key buzzword for designers and savvy business owners, coined by IDEO's Tim Brown.
In his own words, “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer's toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success.” With that being said, human-centered can be ambiguous definition for those who are not design inclined, but it first and foremost underlines the need for empathy in good design.
In order to understand what your client base really needs in efficient design, you first have to submerge yourself in their lifestyle, and take on a quite literal approach to “taking a walk in their shoes”.
Be a fly on the wall
Attend marketing, fundraising or any other social events with your clients. Watch the tone of how they present their brand to analyze their strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, keep watch of the expressions of the people they interact with. You may catch details of the public outlook on a brand through social clues in conversation. This better helps the design of the brand, as you can continue improving the experience of a company by analyzing the actions or expressions of people your client interact with. Some things may not be said out loud, but can be understood through context.
Make yourself the end user
Interact with your client's website as if you were a potential shopper. What problems do you come across? What emotions do you feel when you use their product? Take notes of your experience and present it to the client after asking their design intentions. Sometimes they may be very invested into their website and branding, making them ultimately oblivious to error.
“When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”
Unfortunately, sometimes we give into preconceived notions about a company or client. We believe we understand their needs and how they want to present themselves based on interactions we've had with them. This is essential to remember that seeing is not believing. Ask the client if they have a professional or personal voice when doing business? Ask them who they feel they are as a person vs who they feel they are when they do business. Take their words literally, even if it goes against your own notions of the client, then design their content based on the way they want to be perceived. This way, you help them build the confidence of their brand persona; the persona they would want to showcase to the world.
Empowerment comes with understanding
Ask your client their concerns beyond design, focusing in on their business strategy. Design should be resilient to their fears. Their concerns can help shape the path to better user experience. This is an evergreen challenge, as concerns are always molding. Concerns could vary from "Is this brand telling a story?" to "How are we differentiating ourselves from competitors?" Giving your client a pedestal to voice their concerns, even if they believe is is not your role, can help you shape the way their identifying voice and how they interact with the world.
Don’t be afraid to ideate silly ideas. Draw out even your most ridiculous thoughts
As Pablo Picasso said, “Good ideas don’t come from impulse, but rather by the gathering of many great things.” Draw out even your most ridiculous thoughts – because these thoughts stem from somewhere. They stem from a deeper understanding of your client, from observation, understanding, and empathizing, making your ideas not so ridiculous after all.
This customer-first business approach makes your company and brand resilient to competition and social changes because you’ll evolve with the demands of your users by keeping track of their ever changing needs. Responding to external factors keeps your company on the cutting edge of innovation, but more importantly, will keep help you gain trust through user experience and relevant in a saturated market of products.