Blog Strategy

The Importance of Empathy in Product Design

Mike Boehm

Product Strategist

  • Reading Time  Min Read
  • Publish Date August 6, 2020

As I write this, the world is grappling with uncertainty and various levels of restrictions regarding COVID-19. In these times, we have seen an unprecedented level of cooperation and care on a geopolitical scale, all the way down to individuals showing compassion for one another.

Times like these reiterate that we as humans are social creatures, and the means by which we interact and understand one another is through empathy. Experts claim that empathy is not a trait unique to humans, but a means of “social cohesion.” At its core, this means that being able to consciously understand the feelings and thought processes of one another is the glue that binds society together.

As Dr. Frederik G. Pferdt said in his recent column Think with Google column, ‘What design thinking can teach us about teamwork in a world on pause,’ “By focusing on the human needs, we can navigate ambiguity through empathy, expansive thinking, and experimentation. We as leaders, innovators, and designers, can use [these] three mindsets and tools to help navigate the future in these times of crisis and change.”

At Skookum, we strive to be “Masters of Empathy” and to combine our expertise in feeling others’ emotions with our understanding that the future is digital. We seek to create human-centric solutions in a space that was traditionally cold and calculating. We design technology that feels like it was purpose-built for the individual using it. Gone are the days of one-size-fits-all, table-based software. Today is all about getting to the core of WHY somebody seeks a solution in the first place.

Product is, at its core, becoming enamored with the problems that individuals face, then testing solutions to see which seem the most natural to a consumer.  As product-minded individuals, the best skill we can learn is how to be empathetic, because this is how we are able to deeply understand the problem that people are faced with at any given time.

How often have you rationally been able to understand someone else’s problem, but not why they feel the way they do about it? Striving for a deep understanding of the different types of empathy makes this task a little less daunting, by helping unpack the types needed to approach different empathetic situations.

There are three key types of empathy:

  • Cognitive empathy: the ability to understand how somebody else thinks
  • Emotional empathy: the ability to understand and feel the emotions of others
  • Compassionate empathy: a step beyond emotional empathy, that brings one to act on behalf of another person’s emotions

We leverage all of these skills in order to develop solutions that truly meet the needs of all stakeholders.

At the end of the day, lives matter more than new technologies do. The world is very different today than it was at the beginning of the year and will likely change forever in the wake of the pandemic. Our hope is that through this experience, people realize the value of sharing emotions and experiences with one another and that empathy, once considered a soft skill necessary for only a few, finds its way into all disciplines. In becoming Masters of Empathy, we will continue to drive the digital frontier.

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