When designing a product, do you put yourself in the user’s shoes? Creating innovative (and helpful) solutions requires real insight into what people think and feel to address their needs.
But what happens when a product was not designed with empathy for the user? We’ve experienced the following frustrating situations to show you what what we mean.
1. Which Bin to Put It In?
Recently, after having a delicious picnic-style Indian lunch at the local mall, I had to think a little too hard to figure out the trash separation system. There was one for compost and another one for recycling, but there was none for landfill.
I was trying to decide where to dump the plastic forks and spoons. Usually recycling bins only take bottles and cans. Finally, I dumped them in the recycle bin — they are plastic, right? Wrong. The spoons and forks were biodegradable, so belonged in the compost bin.
If a designer were observing me struggling with the dilemma, she would have developed empathy for what I was going through. I was expecting a three-bin solution, but I had to make do with the two-bin one. So I had to think harder. She may eventually recommend better signage, or a one-bin intake that redesigns the intake supply chain (reconfigure the supporting processing centers). All starts with having empathy for the user.
2. Grab a Coke and a Frown
David Kelley, founder of design firm IDEO, likes to share the example of the old-style soda vending machine, which forces people to bend down to get their can of Coke or Pepsi. Women with short skirts hate these machines. The machines were designed to use gravity as the most efficient force for delivery mechanism, but the designers had little thought or empathy for some women or another set of folks, tall people.
3. Toolin’ Around
More recently, I encountered an admin screen for creating marketing campaigns. It was an internal tool designed by engineering that presented a confusing matrix of database fields requiring inputs from business users.
I consider myself an intelligent person, but my brain hurts just thinking about it. They may have said, “Oh, it’s only an internal tool, we will do it right when we have time.” But usually that doesn’t happen. Once built, it lives on, never to be touched again. The engineering-designed internal tool sits there: confusing new hires, causing errors, creating unnecessary inefficiencies that cost more over the years than if the company had taken some time to design it right, with empathy for the users, in the first place.
4. Pump You Up
As a new working mom, I have a greater appreciation and deeper empathy for my mother and all working moms before me. How in the world did they make it work? In a recent pumping session, I found myself juggling tubes, bottles, flanges, “hands-free” devices and the pump itself.
I went into design-thinking mode. How Might We simplify the pumping process? How Might We make Mom feel like less of a cow getting milked and more like the Wonder Woman she is? Were these questions even asked when the breast pump was designed?
5. Baby Drool Catcher?
My son is currently going through the teething process, which creates buckets of drool. My husband and I have become experts in changing bibs every five to ten minutes or so. I find myself asking—How Might We create something to keep baby dry without having to change a bib every five minutes?
Designing with Empathy
“Design thinking” is not just a buzzword. It is a set of tools for designing and developing products, and bringing them to market “correctly.” Opportunities to design with empathy are all over the place. For starters, it’s important to talk to people with first-hand experiences, get to know your customer and what their concerns are.
Don’t stop at your main customer base either. Go for the extreme users — in the case of mothers, find some that use every kind of technology to help care for the baby, and find some that use none (think Amish). If you can meet both of those cases needs with your design, not only will it most likely meet the needs of your target audience, it’s a start to designing with empathy.
Do you have an experience about a product or service that lacks empathy for you? Or maybe one that is well-designed and has truly considered the user? Please share them here in the comments!