Better Product Design Through User Empathy

Posted on 14th February 2017


Welcome to the Business Empathy Forum and thank you for your visit. In this post I would like to touch on the importance of user empathy in the innovation process. A useful starting point is a recent on-line article by Bhavishya Garg that highlights the role that empathizing with clients plays in successful product design, and ultimately in product and service innovation.

Techniques for Gaining Customer Insight

It may help to first visualize product design as a three-step process consisting of Discovery, Design, and Delivery. In simple terms, ‘Discovery’ is finding out what the customer wants or needs, ‘Design’ is about designing the best product or service to fulfill that desire or need, and ‘Delivery’ is about delivering that product or service in the most cost-efficient and profitable manner possible. Following this line of thinking, user empathy and effective ‘discovery’ will typically improve the odds of executing successful innovations in design and delivery.

Garg makes a clear case for understanding customers better: “The importance of user empathy as a tool for better product or service development cannot be reiterated enough. Understanding the perspective of a user is necessary to create products that are better suited, sustainable and appealing to consumers in the long run. In the race to deploy better technology or aggressive marketing campaigns, connecting directly with the end user by empathizing with them is essential if a business intends to break the clutter.” Garg then describes four investigative techniques that are employed in user research, either singly or in combination:

Personal Interviews
These allow us to leverage our empathy ‘tools’ to listen well, ask insightful questions, and be genuinely present and attentive. Most people are happy to share their opinions, and one-to-one interviews are often an ideal opportunity to learn about user needs and desires.

Observation in Context
This is observing and interacting with people as they actually use a product or service. Experiences as diverse as test-driving a car or sitting next to a call-center agent as she begins to use a new software program can offer real-time insights into what our customers are thinking.

Focus Groups
These guided group discussions about products or services can also be utilized to test ideas for advertising or political campaigns. Leveraging demographic diversity and insights from statistical analysis, focus groups can be particularly effective for assessing messaging strategies .

Usability Testing
This staple of user-centered interaction design provides input on how users utilize a product or service in different scenarios. It is especially practical because of its focus on actual usage.
In sum, user empathy is usually a good investment.

Good luck, and until next time…