Phase 1: Empathize

What is empathy?

Empathy is about putting yourself in another persons shoes. You feel, see and think like they would without judgement and preconceived notions.

Why is empathy important for service design?

Service design is all about designing new products people will want to use and that meet their needs. In order to do this you need to get a deep understanding of your potential customers. What do they do, feel and think? What do they say? And what are their unarticulated needs and wants? Without these insights you cannot design a great product. Which is why empathize is phase 1 of the design thinking process.

Design thinking process

How to empathize?

In the picture below you can find a lot of the tools which are often used during this phase of the design thinking process. The tools borrow heavily from appreciative inquiry and anthropology. In service design you look for the emic perspective of the customer to make sure your products meets the customers needs. Apart from the traditional anthropological tools, you can also use diaries, vlogs, blogs, social media commentary, apps and message board to get an emic view on your customers.

I was at first a bit apprehensive about seeking out extreme users, since i will not be designing for them. But after the first meeting i saw how much value an extreme user has in this phase of the design process. Imagine designing a new shopping bag. The extreme user will use it in ways you have not thought of and it will show you ways to improve your product. For instance with the shopping bag: someone tried to put groceries in it for a family of 10 (definitely did not fit), someone else used it for camping equipment and yet someone else had difficulty lifting the bag once full. These gave us important insights:

  • Elderly people need the bag to still be easy to move once it is full
  • You need to protect the products that get bruised or broken easily
  • You can add fold up bags for big or odd sized groceries 
  • Women need a place for their wallet and keys, since their clothes do not usually offer these
tools for the empathize phase

Practicing empathy

Empathy is hard to do well, especially when you are really enthusiastic about your new product idea. But there are some great ways to practice and get in the right mindset to do this phase well Below you can find four of my favorite assignments to get people in the right mindset for this phase. The difference between observation (seeing, hearing, tasting and touching) and interpretation (what you think your observation means is very important. During my anthropology studies we often got the assignment to wacht a video without sound and report back our observations, without interpretations. This is a lot harder than it may seem. You see someone opening the door (observation) and describe it as someone entering the room (interpretation). At the end of the video there were a lot of different takes on the same video. The example of the opening of the door was not someone entering the room, but someone standing in the doorway to remind another person in the room of dinner at seven o'clock. When you substitute your observations with interpretations it becomes a lot harder to truly empathize with your customers. You may miss important clues for different interpretations from your own. Stopping your own interpretations is nearly impossible, but knowing which is observation and which is interpretation will prove invaluable to your design efforts.

Heard, Seen, Respected (HSR) #issue analysis  #empathy  #communication  #liberating structures 

You can foster the empathetic capacity of participants to “walk in the shoes” of others. Many situations do not have immediate answers or clear resolutions. Recognizing these situations and responding with empathy can improve the “cultural climate” and build trust among group members. HSR helps individuals learn to respond in ways that do not overpromise or overcontrol. It helps members of a group notice unwanted patterns and work together on shifting to more productive interactions. Participants experience the practice of more compassion and the benefits it engenders.

Empathy in action #frame insights  #create  #design  #issue analysis 

Empathy in action is a way to help people empathize with, and understand a specific situation that is foreign to them.

To be used when you have collected enough data to understand a problem and need to let people unfamiliar with the problem empathize with it.

I notice, I wonder #design  #observation  #empathy  #issue analysis 

Learn through careful observation.

Observation and intuition are critical design tools. This exercise helps you leverage both. Find clues about the context you’re designing for that may be hidden in plain sight.

A Day in the Life #design  #empathy  #issue analysis 

Understand your users day-to-day. To better design for people, try shadowing them for a day. By observing someone in their own context, you’ll notice details about their life – the way they engage with people, pr their routine – that you’d otherwise never see.

When you finish the empathize phase you will have a lot of insights. One of the easiest ways to visualize these is by putting them in an empathy map. You can use this map too create a shared image on the needs of your customer. This means you need to make filling it out a group effort. You can use these to help develop your persona's. 

Empathy map

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