Empathy: More Than A Feeling


Empathy is the foundation of any good experience. When we design solutions that meet people where they are, we create experiences that are ultimately more useful and helpful. But how do we design those experiences? It’s more than just solving what we think the problem is. 

Designing through empathy is a long-held tenet of CX designers and strategists. It’s the core of what we do and many times core to who we are as people, but having an empathetic designer is only the beginning. Building empathetic people and processes takes effort, but it’s not impossible. 

What Is Empathy Anyway? 

Merriam Webster defines empathy as “the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another.” It’s seeing the world through other people’s eyes (in our context…the customer’s eyes) and putting away our own expectations or ideas of what they need or want to focus on what they see, feel, and experience. Then, ultimately, how it impacts them. 

Empathy is also the first stage of Design Thinking, but it is really the foundation of any good experience regardless of the project or process of building something truly useful.   

How Does Empathy Help Us Do Better? 

By deeply understanding the customer’s motivations, emotions, and problems, we can: 

  • Understand how they interact with the world around them. 
  • How it impacts them emotionally, mentally, and physically. 
  • What they really mean, not just what they say (like observing someone make a PB&J sandwich rather than telling you how they make it). 

And so, we better understand: 

  • What customers need and want. 
  • How they act, think, and feel. 
  • Why they do what they do in the real world. 

Having this view of the customer helps us understand their perspective. It removes our assumptions and enables us to solve for the customer’s true needs and problems. 

If we use assumptions to drive solutions, we miss the mark. If customers need a way to categorize lists of products for DIY projects, simply reconfiguring “wishlist” functionality may not be an ideal solution. It’s more likely that the changes will complicate the user experience leaving the brand with a feature that is either never adopted or, worse, abandoned by their customers.  

Creating digital experiences with teams that have a deep, empathetic customer understanding leads to more satisfying solutions for our customers. Developing empathy, especially in team members who aren’t used to it can sometimes be uncomfortable, but seeing increased customers satisfaction and positive business outcomes can make the discomfort worthwhile. There’s nothing satisfying in that. 

We use empathy as the foundation of what we do, bringing that understanding to our work and our teams so no one is left behind. We’ll talk about how in our next post.