Empowering with empathy

photo by:  Liane Metzler

photo by: Liane Metzler

Recently at my workplace, we were in a tech town hall and our CEO was giving us a few tips on how to make the product better, functional and take it to the next stage. One of the sentences he used was “have empathy for your user”. For user experience designers it is a mantra to abide by; but do we really understand the meaning of empathy and how to put it to use?

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. 

What this means in simple layman terms is that put yourself in the other's shoe and you will be able to see the varied feelings, emotions that he or she may be going through and make life easier for them.

Let's start with the basic one "Empathy for your users". All good products that have been built till date have been successful only because they solve some problem a user faces, make him feel intelligent or boost their public image. Even though they tend to solve different problems they all have one thing in common. They make the products simple and intuitive. They feel for the user and at each step make sure the user can perform the task easily and move on to the next intended task. These products neither provide information overload just because they have the data but place data in a manner where the user can choose what he or she wants to see and when.

Empathy for your users surely does not mean you feel sorry for the user or create experiences for the "dumb user". It means to empower the user in a manner wherein he or she can perform a task with ease without actually feeling "oh! I must be dumb to not figure this out". Put yourself in the shoe of your user and question every feature added to the product and if need be (and if you can convince your management :P) strip your feature list to one action a user needs to do at one time or one most important data point he should be aware of from your tool. In most companies, this will not happen but try it might take your product to the next level.

Then there is the other Empathy - The one you have for your peers. Most of us today are living in a world where information is readily available to all. All of us have access to knowledge way outside of out specialization and in the "startup world" we are meant to be "unicorns" and "super stars". It has been my observation about myself and others that we know things, we read blogs and we have access to material, and so we think we know it all. Let's break that bubble here. Each person in every organization is hired to perform a particular task. You know what you are good at and don't get me wrong, it is excellent to have knowledge of other arenas but don't boast you know it all as maybe by doing this you are closing down all communication channels. Treat your peers with utmost respect, feel for their work and help them as and when you see the need and you have the time. Don't be arrogant or feel entitled that they have to answer to you. Reach out and empower them to learn, to see new things, new dimensions. 

Empathy has taught me to be a better human being. Try it maybe it will do you some good!