"[T]he more we think we know another’s needs, the less effort we make to find out what their real needs are."
Super smart. Critical in interpersonal relationships, too! Thanks for sharing.
Thank you Drew, I appreciate it!
Nice piece Emily. I can see how, when you think you know your persona, you can start filling in the gaps with your own views. But than, how many users do you need to speak to to create an accurate persona? Or; will your persona really capture every aspect of real world persons needs? I feel persona's are a tool to help make decisions, but will always bring some assumptions with them.
Last week I gave a lunch talk at work about using hypotheses during design work. As I feel that it isn't bad to base your design on assumptions, as long as you know they are assumptions, and are able to test them (preferably early in the process).
- Somehow, I was reminded of this video: Empathy vs Sympathy
Thank you for sharing that video! bookmarked
I really like the way you phrased your statement about assumptions. You're so right! I think the mistake we make is not that we make assumptions or track our personal experiences with our product, but that sometimes we fail to back these up with testing and conversations with the real people using it.
I think that empathy is something (UI) designers need to learn outside the (UI) design vacuum. It's something that has to be learned going out and seeing the world, and different cultures. If anything, it should be taught by people who have done so, not just by some self-proclaimed "UX Expert." The first linked article within the article relating to "empathy" does seem to aim to move people towards having better sense of empathy instead of trying to make it apply into some sort of design process.
The word "empathy," as used in UX/UI design today is quite on par with the word "passionate." With enough bureaucratic layers in companies, and senseless reporters and bloggers, it starts to lose meaning to its original definition.
I'm not sure about calling this form of "empathy" a paradox, rather it feels more like a misguided form of empathy. The moral appears to be that as a designer, you cannot assume much about the person, you have to really know. The process that is required to know is one that requires empathy.
Yes! It is so much bigger than what we do!
The paradox itself refers to the study I referenced, which, as Mattan pointed out, is less about empathy itself and more about perceived empathy - the more empathetic we THINK we are being, the less likely we are to actually BE empathic in practice. It's like, we are so convinced that we have reached the finish line that we stop 100 feet short. "Misguided" is a great way to phrase that.
This reminds me of something that happened last year at An Event Apart Orlando. Several speakers threw around the f-bomb (to much applause/laughter). I've never really liked this (or things like goodfuckingdesignadvice), but whatever.
One of the speakers was maybe 5 minutes into her talk when she said, "I fucking love CSS. I think it's just so fucking awesome!" and everyone cheered. Another attendee tweeted something like, "nothing ruins a talk for me more than a speaker using expletives". I tweeted back something like, "I feel the same way".
Anyway, he had used the conference hashtag, and she saw it later that night. She replied to us both, saying that she only cursed when she tripped on stage, and that it's really hard being on stage in front of so many people and losing your balance. This isn't at all what we were referring to. I don't even remember her cursing when she tripped.
Another speaker (a very popular designer) quickly chimed in, saying "perhaps we could use some empathy here." At that point, with all the talk of "empathy" in ever single talk so far at this conference, I knew it was best to just apologize and move on.
I really respect both of these speakers, but with one remembering things wrong and the other jumping in to judge (with absolutely no knowledge of what happened), it felt like "empathy" was just a card being played to support someone's opinion. It also didn't feel like we were being afforded the same empathy he was asking of us. We were both attendees at an expensive conference, entitled to our opinions and obviously feeling uncomfortable at the language being used.
Anyway, long story. Just wanted to share.
I've run into similar experiences and they are frustrating. Empathy is such a powerful tool, but it has become such a buzzword that people use it to diffuse situations where a better choice of words would be more powerful. For instance, if the famous designer had said, "I'm sorry you felt uncomfortable, I'm sure she feels bad that you feel that way," both you and the speaker likely would have felt better. Thanks for sharing!
Oddly, research has shown that the more we try to empathize with someone else, the more likely we are to project our personal bias onto that person. I found this so interesting, and was inspired to write a short form post on how this relates to UX designers. Comments are welcome here, on the article, or @elou. Cheers!
Students don't know nothing about what we're trying to teach them. They actually know lost of things though their interaction with the world. It just turns out that these thing are wrong scientifically speaking. When you present something, the student thinks they already know it, and they don't really pay utmost attention. They don't realize that what's being presented differs from their prior knowledge. They just get more confident in those things they were thinking beforehand.
As a mother to an eleven year old, I can confirm that the is no better way to convince a misinformed student that they are right than to tell them they are wrong :)
Seriously, though, this raises a great point about perception and how that impacts our ability to emotionally connect with someone else's circumstances.
Empathy is one of the most lacking things in human society, despite it being one of the things that most makes us human.
I wouldn't say empathy has a paradox though, since someone declaring their knowledge of someone's needs without listening isn't actually empathetic at all.
I think the point about "You are not your user" is particularly interesting since I think it applies aptly to the UI designer, but it shouldn't apply to others on your team. I have seen that a lot of people who work on an app or a project don't actually use it themselves, and then they ask "Why are we doing this thing in this way?" without ever having tried to use that feature to solve the actual problem.
If the various engineers and other people in a company actually used the product themselves in their own time, all of a sudden the UI or UX designers have a bunch of actual users you can ask about and empathize with for real.
I see your perspective Mattan. I have always interpreted "you are not your user" to imply that those who build the product have an inherent bias regarding its functionality, tone, value, etc., and that we have to be careful to project those onto our users or intuit their reactions. However, Jared Spool wrote an interesting piece on dogfooding a few years ago that reflect what you were saying.
Perhaps there is a middle ground, where we accept that we can improve our products by experiencing them for ourselves, but that we also take the time to talk to our users to test whether our instincts are correct.
Absolutely, there should be room for both in the development of a product.