Article: Design Thinking: How to master empathy at the workplace

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Design Thinking: How to master empathy at the workplace

Without understanding what others see, feel and experience, designing a service or a product or anything that touches people will be a waste of time and effort.
Design Thinking: How to master empathy at the workplace

“We spend a lot of time designing the bridge,  but not enough time thinking about the people who are crossing it,” -Dr. Prabhjot Singh, Director of Systems Design, Earth Institute

The above quotation got me thinking. A lot of effort will be of no use if the design is not going to help the user. This led me to understand what this buzzword “Design Thinking” is.

The word that caught my attention in the definition is a human-centered approach. The design of the product or the experience must be human-centric. The design thinking steps to follow while designing are Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototyping, and Test. 

The very first step being “Empathy” clearly emphasizes the importance of human-centered approach in design thinking.

It is important for us to understand what empathy is and how to develop it because it is the heart of design thinking.

To put in simple terms, empathy is all about putting yourself in some else shoes, unless you step out of your shoes and think from another person’s point of view, you don’t understand how that person is experiencing your product or service and in general what is happening in his life.

“Design Thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology and the requirements for business success.” Tim Brown, President, and CEO – IDEO

Let us look at how we develop being empathetic to design human-centered experiences for our users. Olive as a dry fruit has a lot of in-depth medicinal value for a human being. Similarly, OLIVE for empathy is a brilliant conceptual acronym! It will help us learn and master empathy for designing user experiences an in-depth value for a designer.

Now let’s look at OLIVE in more detail and see how it helps us develop empathy for our users:

O – Observe:

In order to empathize, our observation skills have to be top notch. Our heart, mind, eyes, and ears need to play the microscopic role of observing empathetically in detail about the user. What is the user doing? What is the users’ behavior? What are the subtle variations? We can also read their body language cues. This will help us become an empathetic observer. We need to observe with complete focus so that we do not miss anything important that will help in creating the design. Many times the users may not be able to articulate their requirements, but sheer unbiased empathetic observation can lead us in the right direction to understand them. Empathetic observation will narrow down the gaps and help us indirectly connecting to the real-time experience of the user.

L – Listen:

The highest form of listening is “Empathetic Listening”. We live in a world full of distractions. The major challenge that we might face while connecting with the user is our inner voice. We need to block that and connect with the inner voice of the user and resonate with them. We need to listen to them with our complete attention to capture all the points. It is important for us to be here and now when we are in conversation with them. This depth of understanding the user will help us design great experiences for them.

“People ignore design that ignores people.” Frank Chimero

I – Immerse:

It is important for us to immerse in the real-time experience. We have to let go and get into the life of the user, be there to understand the context, behavior, choices and their day-to-day life and connect at a higher level. Being with them and immersing in their experience will help us arrive at understanding the user’s challenges. 

V – Visualize:

We live in a visual world. The purpose of visualization is to get an insight into the users’ world and not being limited by pictures. By constantly visualizing the user’s world, we will be able to relate to their lives and challenges. Visualization helps us to empathize and come up with effective designs and solutions for the user; it is the core behavior of design thinking.

E – Emotion:

We need to connect with our user at a deep emotional level. We need to understand their highs and lows. How do they feel in a given situation and why do they feel so. The emotional connect will really help us designers to understand the little frustrations and happiness for a particular design. It will help us read their reaction and response. The emotional bond helps us to be empathetic with the user and design a great experience for them. 

If we look at any story of a superb design, for example, the Doug Deitz story of GE and the Embrace Warmer story from the book Creative Confidence authored by Tom Kelly and David Kelly., you will notice that “OLIVE” approach is embedded in the storyline in search of creating a great and the right experience for the user.

The views expressed in this post are those of the author. These views expressed in this article are the author’s own and don’t reflect that of the organization.

Topics: Diversity, Culture

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