Mod 3 – The Relevance of Empathy Mapping with Prof. Bjorn Akselsen
Previously I posted on the subject of empathy as it relates to conducting user research and understanding a target audience. I know…some of you are probably thinking “Oh no, we are on this again? Are we are all going to sit around in a circle holding hands and telling each other how we respect each others feelings?” Not exactly. Lets call it “field study” …if that sounds cooler and more exciting. For those of you smirking right now, grow up. Empathy, with a capital “E” is one of the pillars of design thinking, and it has been included in a few of my ICM classes now, so there must be something important the professors are trying to tell us. In this post, we will revisit Empathy as part of the overall UX process and how it can be an effective planning tool for both small and world changing endeavors. Let’s see if we can figure out its importance together.
Much of UX design is problem solving. People have problems, and in order to better understand how to resolve the problem, we must understand the cause, the mitigating factors and how they are responding to, or coping with the problem. That is where empathy plays a role. Adding empathy to your development process can be as simple as going to visit a user in their environment. Just kind of hanging out and watching how they use your application. Taking notes from observation and interviews are “field studies” that can offer real insight.
You keep using the word “insight” but what the hell does it mean?
Insight is the precursor to innovation. It is that moment when you realize what can be made better or more efficient in your product or service. Usually insight means that you have discovered a way to make it more useful to people. Satisfying a need or better usability gives it an edge over your competitors. In this short clip from the movie “Forrest Gump” a man with a failing t-shirt business wants to “bottle his magic”.
Forrest Gump: “Have a nice day”
Empathy in design requires deliberate practice. We must set aside reactions and behaviors that will interfere with it. and seek opportunities to connect with people in meaningful ways. It could lead to the next breakthrough!
The Power of Empathy
It is well known that crowd sourcing leads to more effective solutions. Even NASA and Dell have leveraged this input to achieve real business goals. Perhaps it works because you have more people with different experiences working on the problem. This infuses empathy into a project effortlessly. Many individuals contributing their own expertise and unique perspective. It’s natural, the reason we seek advisors.
Now imagine, if you could incorporate the perspectives and motivations of several people into your own? Adding what they THINK & FEEL, HEAR, SEE, SAY & DO into your own planning process? Wouldn’t that be a valuable skill (superpower) to have? Yes, I think so.
In my previous post, we talked a little about types of empathy, the two important categories are emotional and cognitive empathy. For the purposes of this article we will focus on cognitive empathy. Empathy is not sympathy, although they are alike. Cognitive empathy allows you to see a problem without being affected by the emotion and understand the dimensions of the issue to drive action and reach a solution. This can lead to meaningful and powerful outcomes. For example, Mick Ebeling’s life was changed when he met a graffiti artist who lost the ability to communicate and create art due to ALS. The film below is the story of TEMPT, the origin story of The Eyewriter, and the birth of the Not Impossible movement.
Today, Not Impossible Labs continues to change the world with technology for the sake of humanity. Imagine being able to scale this technology to every immobilized person. I believe that this is what Tim Brown means when he presented his case for an immersive “design thinking” approach in our profession. By practicing empathy designers that are thinking bigger, can not only make better products and services but improve the world.
“That’s great buddy, but we don’t do that here.” Empathy as an institutional practice may not be valued in some business environments and may be a tough sell. You may find reluctance to modify project plans, push back deadlines or adjust expenditures based on these types of findings. Professor Akselsen of Quinnipiac University explains how the empathetic practices usually take root in company cultures from the “bottom up” and with demonstrated success….
“In my experience, empathy as a core value, strategy, or approach — whatever you might call it — rarely happens systematically. Organizations are often large, complex and in some cases, decentralized — complicating the adoption of empathy as a culture. What we often see is the method used in departments or on projects, and, in some cases, the empathy approach may spread through an organization as a result of, well, results. As with most ideas, philosophies, social change, etc., they may start with one person, and adoption happens gradually.”
In organizations with millions of customers, or in industries serving the broad public, there is a temptation to stereotype or depersonalize customers. It can be challenging for decision makers to make parallels between their own experiences and those of their customers. So, let’s help them. We can do this by including empathetic artifacts with the materials we present and generate. Empathic artifacts are deliverables that will help stakeholders or clients retain their empathy for any given user, project, or subject matter. We can do this by providing easy access to the stories and experiences that promote emotional understanding.
An Empathy map is like a mind map structured around what a user has reported seeing, thinking, hearing and saying or doing in response to a situation, product or service. According to Stanford Univerity’s D.School an empathy map can help begin a discussion about the needs a user has.
Normally they have a photo of the user in the center. Psst. look they have feelings written on them….I guess that’s why we did feelings first. The discussion will be centered around what was observed, and what can be inferred about these user groups’ beliefs and emotions. They come in all forms and can consist of simple post it notes, to elaborate data visualizations. However, they must all seek to answer and display answers to these basic questions. Below are a few examples.
Empathic articfacts can include, but are not limited to, personas, empathy maps (in my next post we will explore these in depth), documentaries, white papers, testimonials and even museums like the ones described in this video by RSA animate:
Reminding the organization of the customer and its mission is a form of crowd sourcing: when employees approach their individual roles with an improvement mindset and a sense of purpose. The Charles Schwabb investment firm has launched a production company and website dedicated to highlighting how financial empowerment can be a force for change and good. It may be helpful to revisit and rethink research methods, documentation, presentations and reports, replacing or augmenting them with empathy-building experiences that will have an impact on the organization at large.
But you may find that leadership has already embraced empathy as a an alternative to industry norms. An article by Slate magazine entitled “Why Designers Need Empathy” reveals how at PNC Bank, the leadership realized that trust was a more valuable long term commodity than profit. It turned to Tom and David Kelley of IDEO and found an opportunity to attract a younger target market. It created a new kind of savings account built around transparency and healthier money management, attracting fourteen thousand new customers in the first two months. It built on its success further by understanding the needs and lifestyles of those customers, leveraging technology and providing those customers with a mobile app.
Are Empathy Studies the end all, be all?
NO, Although IDEO relies heavily on empathy and real stories in its methodology, they use quantitative data to provide context and support insights. The hybrid approach merges the best aspects of qualitative and quantitative research: The qualitative research uncovers the real human stories and experiences, and the quantitative research considers the market context and potential impact. This allows IDEO teams to embed stories into data and cross-validate emotional insights with numbers to arrive at a stronger, human-centered point of view.
Empathy research does not conflict with big data. In fact, it can guide big data and provide opportunities to make it actionable. Hybrid insights allow us to embed stories in the data, bringing the data to life. It brings the “why” and the “what” together. Hybrid insights can include designing a survey in a human-centered way (being more thoughtful about how we ask questions and keep people engaged) and other small but significant ways.
For example, whenever I call AT&T, the support agent mentions and thanks me for the length of my subscription “you have been a valued customer since…” I know that this is just being pulled from a db with my customer profile, but it always makes me feel appreciated. Just as if you were a small shopkeeper remembering your customers names, upcoming events and milestones as they visit your store. To effectively apply anticipatory design and personalization, empathetic research to find the right “touch points” in user journey. These practices helps companies engage in better service and relationship building. Collecting user data and mapping it to empathy categories may not necessarily meet an immediate business goal, but is good business.
In his excellent and very thorough article on operationalizing big data, Buckley Barlow acknowledges that human-based initiatives are hard work and that for the proper use of actionable analytics, a qualitative understanding must come first.
It seems that I can just go on and on about empathy, but I will leave you with this: There are too many case studies documenting the power of empathy studies to list here. User experience includes digital innovation, organizational strategy, global business challenges and even social change. Take a walk in your UX shoes, approach these issues as if they were design problems, even though they may be outside the traditional practice domain, the exploration will lead to profitable outcomes that are functional and emotionally meaningful for the people affected and I guess that is why it is important.
Thanks for listening and have a nice day!
Resources & References
Empathy on the Edge. (2019, September 11).
SCALING AND SUSTAINING A HUMAN-CENTERED APPROACH IN THE EVOLVING PRACTICE OF DESIGN
By Katja Battarbee, Jane Fulton Suri, and Suzanne Gibbs Howard, IDEO Retrieved from https://www.ideo.com/news/empathy-on-the-edge
Kelley, T., & Kelley, D. (2013). Designing Better Online Banking for Millennials. Slate Magazine. Retrieved from https://slate.com/human-interest/2013/11/empathize-with-your-end-user-creative-confidence-by-tom-and-david-kelley.html
RSA ANIMATE: The Power of Outrospection. (2012, December 03). Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BG46IwVfSu8
Boag, P. (2017). Adapting empathy maps for UX design. Boagworld – User Experience Advice. Retrieved from https://boagworld.com/usability/adapting-empathy-maps-for-ux-design
Empathy Map. (2019, September 14). Retrieved from https://dschool-old.stanford.edu/groups/k12/wiki/3d994/empathy_map.html
Smyk, A. (2019). How to Design Empathy Maps to Better Understand Your Users. Adobe Blog. Retrieved from https://theblog.adobe.com/how-to-design-empathy-maps-to-better-understand-your-users
Nothing Is Impossible Forever. (2019, September 11). Retrieved from https://www.notimpossible.com
Charles Schwab | Own Your Tomorrow. (2019, August 22). Retrieved from https://www.ownyourtomorrow.com/#stories
“Help One, Help Many…” Making the impossible possible | Mick Ebeling. (2016, December 14). Youtube. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihzObEqvcHY
Get Involved. (2019, September 11). Retrieved from https://www.notimpossible.com/get-involved#getinvolvedform
Cancialosi, C. (2015). Crowdsourcing: Your Key To A More Effective, Engaged Organization? Forbes. Retrieved from https://www.forbes.com/sites/chriscancialosi/2015/08/03/crowdsourcing-your-key-to-a-more-effective-engaged-organization/#760ae7c0eaef
Humanizing Big Data: The Key to Actionable Customer Journey Analytics. (2018, April 24). Retrieved from https://www.rocketsource.co/blog/journey-analytics
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