Christmas empathy

‘Christmas Gift Suggestions’ by Leland Francisco, https://www.flickr.com/photos/lel4nd/4213129244, under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Full terms at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.

Christmas is seen by many as a time to think about others and for giving; a time for a generosity of spirit. Hopefully it is a time of year that brings out the best in people. This may take the form of contributing to community, be it a cake stall, a fundraising night, or supporting St Kilda Mum’s, which are all things underpinned by giving.

St Kilda Mums is a fantastic program which recycles used baby and children’s gear so that no child goes without the “most basic material needs – like a safe cot to sleep in”. They have been incredibly successful, started by Jessica Macpherson in 2009 they now have over 4000 supporters. In the past they have run a toy drive for Christmas however this year they are focussed on ensuring that every baby has a safe place to sleep. St Kilda Mun’s saw a user need, in that perfectly good baby products were being thrown out by charities. Big charities were not prepared to organise the safety checks required to re-use some of these products such as car seats. Here it is that Mum’s have walked in the shoes of other Mum’s and understood the need to provide baby goods for the underprivileged and the need to recycle perfectly good products which would otherwise go to waste.

So what does this have to do with user experience? Lots actually. At the heart of giving is empathy, the ability to understand someone else’s feelings. Effective UX requires us to empathise with both our customers and our stakeholders.

In terms of customers it is pretty clear that we must utilise empathy to understand their needs. Empathy takes our appreciation for customer needs from a superficial level to the depth of comprehension which is required to design effective user experiences for people. To achieve this we need a genuine interest in, and the desire to understand people; taking delight in gathering new knowledge and perspectives, much the way a child soaks up information.

At the core empathy requires good listening and the removal of our personal biases and beliefs regarding a topic. Our personal experiences and beliefs influence the way we understand and process new information. Try to put yourself in their shoes. This doesn’t require you to agree or believe in the other person’s opinions or beliefs, it just requires you to have an understanding of how they may have come to that belief.

Empathy also plays a critical role when working with our stakeholders, to genuinely meet their needs we need to understand where they are coming from. What is behind a request? Why are they hesitant to implement a new design? Good user experience is as much about great design as it is about navigating the internal workings of an organisation.

As designers we benefits by putting ourselves in the shoes of our users, we also have a lot to gain by doing this with our stakeholders. Working through the following can greatly benefit our ability to work with stakeholders and produce work which benefits all:
• How does their experience and training influence their perspective?
• What are they trying to achieve within their job?
• What pressures are being placed on them from their superiors and stakeholders?
• How much ownership and investment do they have in existing products?

So, whether it trying to understand your user’s experience, or to meet your stakeholder’s needs, a little bit of empathy goes a long way.

To learn more about St Kilda Mums and donate see their website: http://www.stkildamums.org/home

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