Can designers reach the highest levels of empathy?

I think we get close, but not quite

Have you ever verbally told someone about an experience? You used the best words you knew of to describe it — and they shook their heads with understanding and said, “Oh yeah, I see what you mean, I get it!”

Then they go and have the experience, and they come back to you. “Oh my gosh. I mean, I heard what you said, but it’s just …” and you nod your head, because now they actually get it.

Whether it’s grief, having a child, feeling the sun on your face —words are very powerful, but there is still a chasm we cross when we actually experience something ourselves.

Does design research help us cross that chasm?

the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

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Look! I have the archetypes AND journeys for the user — I totally understand them!

But as I have repeatedly observed and lived out the exchange I described above, I think it’s a little arrogant to say we achieve the same amount of empathy from someone describing the sun relative to actually feeling the sun. Even the holy grail of ethnographic research, observing someone in their actual workspace completing a task, doesn’t quite get us there.

Ok, so what?

But what I am saying is to keep in mind a humility, that unless we have directly experienced what our user has, that we can’t quite get there.

Ashley Crutcher is a Digital Designer at InterVarsity located in Madison, WI. She tweets at @ashleyspixels and enjoys cuddling with her furkiddos, working with yarn, ringing handbells, and thinking too much about everything.

Digital Designer

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