Thursday, April 9, 2015

Empathy in Design Thinking

Imagine how different the world would be with the right dose of empathy to connect the minds and touch the hearts.

Empathy has always been a challenge for design thinking and overall leadership and management practices. Since now the digital era is also an age of empathy due to its nature of hyperconnectivity and overcomplexity, there is the need to think about how to project efficiently both for the mechanical part and the human part of the design process. Having to deal with the opposition of the working force. But why is empathy so important in design thinking, and what are those best empathetic practices?

Empathy is the ability to be able to go into someone's world, but also able to return to your own. Empathy gets confused with sympathy by many. Sympathy is the feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune. Being empathic means: "that for the time being you lay aside the views and values you hold for yourself in order to enter another's world without prejudice.” The biggest challenge with empathy is reminding yourself that stepping in someone's shoes is something different from assuming you can step into their skin. But you can always listen and build understanding by imagining what it could feel like, and acknowledging that experience - especially when it is much different than your own. It may be about keeping a certain distance (sounds paradoxical) and being very aware of which of your thoughts and behaviors are "yours," so they don't confound those of the person you are empathizing with.

Design-driven empathy will dig beneath articulated 'solutions' to recognize underlying needs and wants: It’s about the ability to weave the architecture of empathy for self, others, and nature into a vibrant and compassionate whole. Brimming with gratitude. In some sense it means that you lay aside yourself, and this can only be done by a person who is secure enough in him/herself that he/she knows he/she will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and can comfortably return to his/her own world when he/she wishes. Empathy comes only after truly listening to the audience you seek to serve. Listening isn't just using one's ears. Listening works best after forming thoughtful, insightful and compelling questions. Albert Einstein once famously said: “If I had an hour to solve a problem I'd spend 55 minutes thinking about the problem and 5 minutes thinking about solutions.”

Empathy needs to be foundational in the design thinking process. The good way to achieve empathy by always making it a practice to reach out the customers; it’s important to ask insightful, thoughtful and compelling questions of the people your design will serve as you seek to understand their wants, desires, and needs. To quote systems thinker Gharajedaghi “The design model has explicitly recognized that the choice is at the heart of human development.” The design works in fields where there is more than one valid option rather than one provable truth. Gharajedaghi also states: “Designers seek to choose rather than predict the future”. But it's the choices made by engineers, producers and marketers impact upon what designers offer. That is why integrative design thinking grounded in customer and user empathy - has to drive the whole development and delivery process.

Humans aren't as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other creatures on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education, and more often informal should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be with the right dose of empathy to connect the minds and touch the hearts.


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