Designing an excellent digital product is complex, and so is developing a truly great product. A great product goes beyond the physical aspects of the products, including the aesthetics, usability, and accuracy of operations. It also goes beyond the user personas, product performance, or even the customer problems. An excellent digital product relates to the user’s context, and understanding the context elevates the user experience. You can achieve such an experience by using the principles of empathy-driven design for your digital product development.
Consider this; you are developing an app for people older than 70 years of age. It is safe to assume that your development team will be primarily young. How would they consider the issues older people face while using your app? How would they integrate the solutions for those specific needs into the app? It will not matter to the users of this app if the developers implement the pixel-perfect design with the optimal performance that modern technology can offer. Perhaps larger fonts and action buttons, lots of white space, and accessible options to seek emergency help with a single click would matter more for the old users.
Such human-centric considerations are becoming critical for product success. 64% of U.S. consumers and 59% of all consumers said that companies have lost touch with the human element of customer experience, according to a PwC study. Empathy allows products to build an emotional connection with people, which, as research found, matters even more than customer satisfaction.
Designers always face this question; how do bring this deep understanding of the users’ context into the development process? How do uncover the user behavior derived from their specific situation and turn it into a practical experience? Empathy provides a way to achieve this.
What Is Empathy?
While many definitions of empathy are available, one given by Dr. Brené Brown is the most succinct and apt one; Empathy is feeling with people. Therefore, empathy is not only about user personas representing your users’ physical or materialistic attributes but understanding their situation and mindset while using your product.
Empathy has many facets, and two of them are of primary concern when it comes to digital products. These two types are;
It is often said that to develop a product that customers will love, you need to put yourself in their shoes. It essentially refers to perspective-taking, where you imagine being in other people’s situation and formulate your response accordingly. User personas allow us to do precisely such perspective-taking.
On the other hand, emotional empathy shares other people’s emotions. For example, if a child is in pain, the mother also feels distressed. Emotional empathy results in compassion for the other person and generates an urge to help.
How To Use Empathy For Product Development?
Understanding empathy is not enough. Implementing empathy entails converting the emotional aspects to practical experiences. It is an iterative process that involves looking inwards to understand what biases the team might have that influence the product development and looking outwards to understand what part of our customer’s context we are overlooking. There are various ways teams can achieve this.
- Be clear about “why” we are building the product? Which problem will we solve, and for what kind of humans?
- Create user storyboards. The user storyboards allow teams to visualize the customer journey, including capturing user behavior’s emotional and cognitive aspects. In addition, it can help identify how the customers would interact with the application flow.
- Complement the storyboards with a combination of user research methods such as ethnographic observation, focus groups, and surveys to understand how users navigate the problem.
- However, storyboards and other research methods may still not tell the complete story. Observing the users in real-time to understand how they currently solve the problem and what challenges they face can help address both the inherent bias and the aspects of customer behavior and motivations that storyboards might not have captured correctly.
- An empathy map is a powerful tool to understand all the dimensions of the customer problem to focus on the core and correct needs. So let us know the empathy maps a little better.
An empathy map represents a group of users or a customer segment to help solve a problem. It then divides your observations and learnings into various categories, representing both cognitive and emotional aspects of users in any given situation.
- The developers start by elaborating on whom we are empathizing with and WHAT this group of users wants to achieve.
- Developers then capture the following through observations and interactions;
2.1 What do these users see, including other solutions, how others solve the problems, and what your product displays.
2.2 What do they say? It might be what they described while you interviewed them, or even what you can imagine them saying if they have to describe their problems?
2.3 What do they do? These observations may even include their behavior outside of the problem space, allowing the teams to understand them better as humans.
2.4 What do they hear? What information are they getting about possible solutions to the problem?
2.5 What do they think and feel? What are their fears? What are their motivations, and what do they want to achieve?
Empathy forms the foundation for modern product development approaches, including Human-Centered Design and Design Thinking. It is an iterative process that starts with your idea but repeats throughout the product life cycle.
Empathy will enable you to better understand your users and customers as human beings. This understanding will drive the design and development of a product that will solve the customer problems effectively and become a product that users love and drive the success of your venture.
Here is a link to an empathy map canvas that you may want to use for your product development.