hat is Empathy, and why am I writing a blog post about Empathy-Altruism when I focus on User Experience Design? It's a fair question and one that I would like to try to explain how the two connect the dots, or how they meet in the middle. You see, Empathy at its core is the holy grail of User Experience (UX), or at least that's what the Interaction Design Foundation suggests it is. They define Empathy in five different steps: Observation, Capturing Data, Reflection, and Analysis, Brainstorming for Solutions, and finally Develop Prototypes of Possible Solutions. Now, I'm not going to spend the time in breaking down the different steps for empathetic design and be yet another evangelist for promoting Empathy from a UCD Approach, for that, I've included the link. Your welcome.
My purpose of this short blog post is to explain from a psychology angle what is Empathy-Altruism and why I think it plays such an essential role in User Experience. Empathy is part of Social Psychology, and it has the capacity to experience others' emotional states, feel sympathetic toward them, and take their perspective. In other words, we help others because we vicariously experience any unpleasant feelings they are experiencing and want to help bring their negative feelings to an end, and one way of doing so is to help them in some way. This is unselfish because it leads us to offer help for no extrinsic reason, but it is also selfish, in one sense, since the behavior of assisting others helps us, too: it can make us reflect these basic observations.
I'm not the one coming up with this nonsense, talk to the folks at the d.school over at Stanford, and they can help you better understand the need for Empathy and its purpose, you know, they've helped refine this 40-year-old process originally originated from the UK. Now, the d.school and many other schools now offer entire courses on design thinking and user-centered design, and guess what the very first step in the entire process is? You probably guessed it right, Empathy. The d.school offer free online resources and crash courses on design thinking, one, in particular, is called "Design Thinking Bootleg" which is a quick and dirty put together document for us UX lovers to learn more about the Design Thinking approach. They describe Empathy as the foundation of human-centered design, the problems we're all trying to solve are rarely our own, they're those of particular users. They also suggest that to empathize we need to observe, engage and immerse. If you've been reading carefully, these are all of the very same principles that apply to Empathy-Altruism, to listen, sympathize and take their perspective goes hand to hand with observing from the HCD approach, which is to view users and their behavior in the context of their lives and the experiences. What are they struggling with, why are they struggling with what they're struggling, how can we improve that experience? Now that we're now submerged in this experience and we're able to understand their pain points emotionally, we can start finding a solution to the problem.
Part of helping others to gain nothing in return that lives at the heart of Empathy-Altruism, but in our case, we want to dive deeper and find solutions to these problems so that we're able to sympathize even more. As part of the UCD process, we go through an Interview process to dive deep into the user's state of mind as we interview to gain empathy, we understand their motives, the behaviors, choices, and needs. This is part of the engaging phase in the UCD.
To wrap this up, we practice Empathy so that we're able to connect with our users, to dive deep into their problems, to learn more about their behaviors and their reasoning for doing what they're doing, Empathy is practiced at its best when we're able to wear their shoes and experience what they're experiencing.