In Design, Empathy is Not Enough

Empathy is hot right now. It’s being posited as one of the key characteristics that sets designers apart. (As though we have a monopoly on it.)

But empathy is only a stepping stone on the way to a more important place: understanding. Understanding encompasses not only the experience of being the user (empathy) but also the forces working against the user, be they technology, business, other people, or culture.

Empathy will get you to see the problems from the users’ perspective, but not the solutions. If users could design a solution to their problems, they would. But that’s your job as the designer. Users know everything there is to know about their situation, but may not have the overall understanding of the space that you should have because you’re looking at the problem from many angles, not just from one (the user’s).

Dan Saffer