Develop an Empathetic Approach to Creating Your Products & Services

Empathy is, at its simplest, awareness of the feelings and experiences of other people. It requires a strong sense of imagination for you to abandon your preconceived ideas and opinions about the world in order to be able to see through another person’s eyes.
Sympathy, a word often confused with empathy, is your ability to have or show concern for another but to sympathise doesn’t necessarily require you to grasp a good understanding of what others experience. When you sympathise, you tend to project feelings of pity for another person.

In designing a product or service you should be concerned with understanding the people for whom you are designing for. If you develop products and services without understanding your user’s experiences and preferences, you run the risk of creating a product or service that will be ignored by them – this is why empathy is the foundation of designing a meaningful product.

Confirmation bias:
People tend to selectively filter the information that they pay attention to – this is known as confirmation bias. Those that display this kind of bias favour evidence that confirms their existing beliefs and discredit information that contradicts them. Here are a couple of things to think about to help you diminish your confirmation bias and adopt a more empathic approach to your products and services:

1. Surrender your ego.
Through surrendering your ego, and adopting humility you’ll be able to elevate the value of other people rather than concerning your own situation and needs first. Confirmation bias is rooted in your ego, to empathise with your users you must put aside your ego and opinions and actually listen to them and accept what you hear.

2. Ask better questions.
Firstly, think about who you are asking – ask a diverse group of people for feedback on your work. When asking for feedback, don’t just ask “how did I do?” it provokes a simple answer and you’re unlikely to receive constructive criticism this way. A much better question is “what could I have done differently?” this kind of question encourages the person that you are asking to give a more explanatory answer.

3. Be a good listener.
To empathise, you must listen effectively. Try to restrain from formulating your own conflicting opinions and voicing them before the person you are collecting information from has finished talking. Allow the other persons voice to resonate rather than your inner voice.

4. Be a good observer.
Many times, what a person will tell you about their experiences is only a fraction of the full story. By honing your observation skills and reading your users behaviours, subtle indications, non-verbal expressions, body language, and environments you can fill many of the gaps.

5. Be sincere.
Having genuine concern about how other people are feeling drives you to want to help and assist others and therefore create a product or service that actually benefits them. When you approach people with a superficial agenda or air of superiority you are placing a barrier between yourself and those you wish to understand.

Empathy is paramount to creating a meaningful product or service. Being able to understand your user’s motivations, issues and emotions will make you a better product designer and a better person too.

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