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Understanding User Experience with Empathy

Posted by Jamie Korf on February 7, 2017 at 8:51 AM

Decoding the consumer mindset is a continuous challenge for marketers. To crack this code, we need to attack it from the other end. Empathic design is a process to do just that. Here’s a five step model to get you started.


The word empathy gets thrown around a lot. In the context of marketing and design, empathy is the ability to deliver a rewarding user experience. It’s about observing users in their own environment, and drawing conclusions about their wants and needs.

By definition, “empathic design” is a human-centered approach that bucks traditional market research, like surveys and focus groups, and relies on insights through the observation of consumers, and building an emotional connection with the end user through design thinking.

Empathic design was first adopted by automotive and consumer electronics industries, but has since been successfully used by marketing, web design and social media for UX and conversion rate optimization.

In Harvard Business Review’s “Spark Innovation through Empathic Design,” Dorothy Leonard and Jeffrey F. Rayport discuss their 5 step technique and unique types of information that can be gathered in the process.

Step 1: Observe
Observing people engaging with your product or service in their own environment can prompt changes that give you a competitive advantage.

Plot out the interactions you’re observing before you begin and outline the questions you’d like to resolve such as: What circumstances bring people to your product or service? At which point do they typically turn to your business offering? How does your product or service fit into your consumers everyday lives?

Do they respond to it a way that you would expect? If not, this could mean new marketing opportunities for your business.

Step 2: Capture Data

For digital marketing, this means turning a keen eye to your web analytics and social media engagement. How do users first encounter your brand? What forms of content and messaging are getting the most engagement? Are website visitors finding what they need, and taking action?

Do your users behave in unexpected ways to solve their problems? There are times when users will turn to multiple sources to address their needs which, can highlight opportunities expand or revise the content you are providing your users.

Step 3: Reflect and Analyze

Meet with your marketing team to reflect on you’ve observed, and reach a consensus on possible customer issues and needs. What types of intangible benefits can your product or service provide?

It’s rare for consumers to identify these attributes in surveys and questions, but those emotional attributes can spark an opportunity for your business. Use these observations to shape your marketing messaging and forms of engagement to suit the behavior of your audience.

Step 4: Brainstorm Solutions

A valuable part of any innovation process is identifying problems or new opportunities that cropped up during testing. Managers at IDEO heed to these five rules: defer judgment, build on ideas of others, hold one conversation at a time, stay focused on the topic at hand, and encourage wild ideas.

Are your prospects or current consumers experiencing issues with your business offering that could be redesigned to alleviate the problem? What do you see people being unable to do that would be beneficial?

Step 5: Test

To receive the best, most accurate results, create a loop of testing and prototyping. Your tests should be held with a diverse team to gain the best perspective on all facets of your business, and the various ways users engage with your brand.

This can include A/B testing different messaging and designs for your branded emails, website landing pages, When you’re all done, regroup with your team to cover results and start implementing what you find.

The Outcome

Empathic design is a low-cost, low-risk method to identify critical customer needs with the potential to uncover new brand and marketing opportunities along the way. Keeping empathy at the heart of your design will yield better engineered, and more intuitive experiences that your consumers will come to know and love.

Ready to Design Great Experiences?

Our free digital assessment evaluates your current website and marketing goals to ensure each are working together to satisfy your users and your bottom line.


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Topics: UX, digital research, Web Design, user esperience

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