October 18, 2022

Practicing empathy with user research

Rushali Singh

To analyze and report the most ideal facts for the best products or design, but to intimately understand users and their needs. Your research should inform the most delightful aspects of a user’s experience.

Being an empathetic researcher involves being able to set aside your own opinions to allow your users hurdles, goals, and sentiments the space to define the outcome.

Why is empathy important?

Conducting effective, empathetic research is an ongoing process that needs to be practiced in every stage of development. The results can greatly impact the type of product you build or how it meets user needs — all while aligning to business needs as well.

Empathy can help you achieve numerous goals -

  • More users are actively using the end product.
  • Users delight in the experience of using a product.
  • Increased return on investment.

And this is just the tip of the iceberg.

What research methods lead to empathetic UX?

There are several ways in which to conduct user research, and each methodology, the language you use, the questions you ask, and your overall approach can affect the results and information you receive.

  • User Interviews: Being able to speak directly with users, watching their reactions, listening to changes in their tone of voice, or simply understanding how their view a scenario is easy when conducting both remote or in-person interviews. The added benefit of remote user interviews is the ability to record and rewatch interviews and glean nuances you might have missed. 1:1 can also help you engage in a deeper and richer way with each participant.
  • Contextual Inquiry: Much like user interviews, contextual inquiry means placing yourself in the same environment as your user and observing how they deal with tasks or situations. Users providing interviews in environments they’re most comfortable helps them open up and makes it easier for them to participate. It also helps researchers build empathy by observing exactly how a user might interact with a product or navigate roadblocks.
  • User Surveys: Survey’s can seem like a disconnected way in which to reach users. This is why structuring, language, and approach play a critical role. It’s good to have a mix of closed and open questions. Throughout the survey, ensure that your questions are short and easy to understand — especially if it’s intended for users who lack fluency in your primary research language.
  • Card Sorting: This simple exercise can help your research participants structure their thoughts and ideas in a way that can easily be analyzed. It can also help them open their minds to new ideas, possibilities, or hurdles that they may not have noticed before.

Commit to the research!

Empathetic user research requires consistency and practice. There are ways in which you can continuously remind yourself to focus on the user and their experiences, instead of blurring reports with your perspective.

  1. Listen actively and keep rewiring your thoughts whenever you feel like you’re coloring a situation with your thoughts or ideas.
  2. Adopt a problem-solving mindset that prioritizes the most important issue for your user.
  3. Don’t assume. Every time a user frowns at a page or a task, ask them why.
  4. Ask for feedback early and often.
  5. Create an environment that makes it effortless for a user to communicate freely.

Empower your teams to make informed decisions with real insights from real people.

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