Why Designers Need Empathy By Tom Kelley and David Kelley

Tom and David Kelley of the award-winning Palo Alto-based global design firm IDEO have been helping private and public sector organizations innovate, grow and bring to market new ideas for 35 years…

 

The notion of empathy and human-centeredness is still not widely practiced in many corporations. Business people rarely navigate their own websites or watch how people use their products in a real-world setting. And if you do a word association with “business person,” the word “empathy” doesn’t come up much.

 

What do we mean by empathy in terms of creativity and innovation? For us, it’s the ability to see an experience through another person’s eyes, to recognize why people do what they do. It’s when you go into the field and watch people interact with products and services in real time—what we sometimes refer to as “design research.” Gaining empathy can take some time and resourcefulness. But there is nothing like observing the person you’re creating something for to spark new insights. And when you specifically set out to empathize with your end user, you get your own ego out of the way. We’ve found that figuring out what other people actually need is what leads to the most significant innovations. In other words, empathy is a gateway to better and sometimes surprising insights that can help distinguish your idea or approach.

 

By Tom Kelley and David Kelley