I was recently reading an article from Daniel Pink, a self confessed sign nut. He was discussing a great topic that I believe gets so little coverage in the design world. The power and language of empathy in messaging and signage and in user experience as a whole. In particular he had two specific points about signage:
- Demonstrate empathy
- Encourage empathy
Form an emotional bond with your user in the language and spirit of your messaging and experience. You do not have to limit yourself to this archaic and silly messaging that is from the days of past. Create helpful and meaningful messaging that gives your user’s the understanding of A) why they got here B) how they can fix it. If you cannot give them those two reasons specifically. Then give them hints to try fixing it themselves.
A little side note: Did you know that most of the messaging you see for errors in Windows are actually relics from debugging days of old? The overly complex messaging, “Error 34807” were actually used by the programmers when they have to debug the software in the testing phase. The problem is that no one knew what to do with them from Windows 95 to XP, so they left them because if a customer was stuck atleast it would be helpful to Technical Support in fixing them over the phone. This has evolved into a rather colorful way of being able to deal with problems yourself by giving specific search terms to find errors. When is the last time you called Technical Support on the phone? That being sad, no one in their right mind likes them or wants them to stay. 🙂 Its just a great case of user’s adapting to overcome the limits of the software with their own personal needs.
Things do not have to be clinical to be correct. They don’t have to speak to every use case under the sun to be correct. To try and weave a web of user assistance that will include and cover everyone that could possibly be involved in your product, is to doom your experience to the lowest common denominator. When designing aspects of your product, think of how you can design the best possible experience, for the best possible user. The definition of the best possible user is a whole other argument.
More importantly, speak to them as people. As you would want to be spoken to. I get irritated when I am simply handed user experience testing results in a neat and tidy word document. It contains charts, and graphs, and these little recommendations on what would get better results. That’s the important part. Results and not experience. The problem with user experience recommendations are they are data driven and therefore not experience driven. It makes the experience as a whole so clinical. I want to see the videos to see the context of these results. Why did they do this? Why did they do that? Why couldn’t they find _____ ? Let me see for myself what happened and when, to see where the breakdown or the eureka came into play. Results can be so misleading if you try to boil them down into a nice tidy package. I encourage everyone out there to challenge results and to push user experience. Don’t let them give you something that doesn’t make sense and accept it so that now need to change your design. If it doesn’t make sense, start a conversation about it.. but most importantly, watch the tapes if they are there so you can understand for yourself.
Empathy is the capability to share and understand another’s emotions and feelings. It is often characterized as the ability to “put oneself into another’s shoes,” Empathy does not necessarily imply compassion, sympathy, or empathic concern because this capacity can be present in context of compassionate or cruel behavior.
Don’t change your design unless you understand fully and completely the reasons you need to change it and for who and why. To do otherwise is to wander aimlessly.Gather clear direction and purpose from a business need or a user’s needs to discover where your designs need to improve for the user. The reason I discuss this under a post of empathy, because first and foremost you need to remember what your product is for. Users and they are just people like you and me. I always sort of laugh at the term, “go back to the drawing board.” If that were the case, it is underestimating the actual knowledge you have already gained by a failure.
This is a common argument heard around non-design tables: “I am a user, and this is what I like…” to support a design direction or decision that they want to make. This argument is futile from their end because what this shows is complete lack of empathy for the user. You are not designing a particular thing for one person, but for many. To reach a decision based on one person shows no grasp of the concept of “user-centered design.”
Empathize with your users. Eat your own dogfood.
To say that a company “eats its own dog food” means that it uses the products that it makes. For example, Microsoft emphasizes the use of its own software products inside the company. “Dogfooding” is a means of conveying the company’s confidence in its own products.
The idea originated from television commercials for Alpo brand dog food; actor Lorne Greene would tout the benefits of the dog food, and then would say it’s so good that he feeds it to his own dogs. In 1988, Microsoft manager Paul Maritz sent Brian Valentine, test manager for Microsoft LAN Manager, an email titled “Eating our own Dogfood” challenging him to increase internal usage of the product; from there, the usage of the term spread through Microsoft, as chronicled in the book Inside Out: Microsoft—In Our Own Words (ISBN 0446527394). The phrase became slang during the dot-com craze of the late ’90s, and is used most commonly in reference to technology companies.
Using one’s own products has four primary benefits:
- The product’s developers are familiar with using the products they develop.
- The company’s members have direct knowledge and experience with its products.
- Users see that the company has confidence in its own products.
- Technically savvy users in the company, with perhaps a very wide set of business requirements and deployments, are able to discover and report bugs in the products before they are released to the general public.
If you want to design a product for someone. Put yourself in their shoes for as long as it takes to be empathetic. Daily I am surprised at the people who are designing products that they themselves have not, or will never use. If you would not use your own product, how could you possibly design an experience that would be rich or rewarding to someone else? As a natural interface designer I push myself in taking away things like a mouse and a keyboard. I force myself to use the methods that users will use exclusively. I want to empathize with the user who will be using it, so I want to be in their shoes. The easiest way is to limit yourself to the designs which you are creating. There is so much knowledge and experience that can be derived from using a product, form factor, interface when you use it yourself.