We have yet to understand people as well as doctor Samuel Beckett did in the American television series of the 90s, “Quantum Leap”. While traveling into the past, Samuel inhabited the bodies of various people and lived their lives in order to solve the mistakes that they would commit in the future. Although we can’t go to the same lengths as Samuel in order to understand people, we can still try. With empathy.
Empathy is at the heart of UX design (and should be at the heart of everything).
Why? Because designers should care about the users, try to understand how they use a system, how they feel and think about it and more importantly, why. Why they behave this way? Why they perceive a system this way?
“It’s seeing the world with someone else’s eyes,” says Patrick Quattlebaum from Adaptive Path in his article “Service Design Soft Skill Builder: Empathy”.
It’s a combination of connecting the heart with the mind.
“Empathy starts with vulnerability,” claims Sara Wachter-Boettcher in her blog the pastry box project. “We can’t begin being empathetic when another person arrives. We have to already have made a space in our lives where empathy can thrive. And that means being open—truly open—to feeling emotions we may not want to feel. It means allowing another’s experiences to gut us. It means ceding control,” she adds.
For Dr Brené Brown, professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, it’s a connection to feel with people.“In order to connect to someone, I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling,” she explains.
For us, as designers, empathy is the ability to perceive, identify and understand the feelings or the emotions of another person while maintaining an affectionate distance with that person.
Understanding emotions is key in design because emotions have an impact on the decision making, attention, and behavior of users.
Here are two beautiful videos that sum up this first blog entry on empathy. Another post will follow on the Design Empathique.
Empathy VS Sympathy (English, 2:53)
The human connection to patient care (English, 4:23)